Note: In this article we will focus on the section “Does a Person Have a Right to Change Religions?” in the JW.ORG FAQ article, Do Jehovah’s Witnesses Force People to Change Religions?
Does a Person Have a Right to Change Religions?
“Yes, the Bible shows that people have the right to change their religion. It records many who chose not to follow the form of religion practiced by their relatives and who, of their own free will, decided to worship the true God. Abraham, Ruth, some of the people of Athens, and the apostle Paul are just a few examples. (Joshua 24:2; Ruth 1:14-16; Acts 17:22, 30-34; Galatians 1:14, 23) In addition, the Bible even acknowledges a person’s right to make the unwise decision to abandon the worship approved by God.—1 John 2:19.
“The right to change religions is supported by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which the United Nations has called “the foundation of international human rights law.” That document states that everyone has the “freedom to change his religion or belief” and “to seek, receive and impart information and ideas,” including religious ideas. * Of course, these rights carry with them the obligation to respect the rights of others both to maintain their beliefs and to reject ideas that they disagree with.
Note the loaded language in the above statements:
“It records many who chose not to follow the form of religion practiced by their relatives and who, of their own free will, decided to worship the true God.”
“In addition, the Bible even acknowledges a person’s right to make the unwise decision to abandon the worship approved by God”
According to Watchtower it is perfectly acceptable to convert to become a Jehovah’s Witness, but for a Witness to change to different religion would be an “unwise decision to abandon the worship approved by God.”
In reality, Jehovah’s Witnesses are not able to leave the religion without being completely shunned by their family and friends:
- “One who has been a true Christian might renounce the way of the truth, stating that he no longer considers himself to be one of Jehovah’s Witnesses or wants to be known as one. When this rare event occurs, the person is renouncing his standing as a Christian, deliberately disassociating himself from the congregation. The apostle John wrote: “They went out from us, but they were not of our sort; for if they had been of our sort, they would have remained with us.”—1 John 2:19.
“Or, a person might renounce his place in the Christian congregation by his actions, such as by becoming part of an organization whose objective is contrary to the Bible, and, hence, is under judgment by Jehovah God. (Compare Revelation 19:17-21; Isaiah 2:4.) So if one who was a Christian chose to join those who are disapproved of God, it would be fitting for the congregation to acknowledge by a brief announcement that he had disassociated himself and is no longer one of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
“Persons who make themselves “not of our sort” by deliberately rejecting the faith and beliefs of Jehovah’s Witnesses should appropriately be viewed and treated as are those who have been disfellowshiped for wrongdoing.” w81 9/15 pp. 20-26
While their official website states that everyone has a right to change religions, Watchtower insists that anyone who “rejects the faith and beliefs of Jehovah’s Witnesses” should be excommunicated/disfellowshipped. How are “disfellowshipped” people to be viewed and treated by Jehovah’s Witnesses?
- A simple “Hello” to someone can be the first step that develops into a conversation and maybe even a friendship. Would we want to take that first step with a disfellowshiped person? w81 9/15 pp. 20-26
This shunning is even to be carried out by close family members and friends:
- “[Disfellowshipping] may be difficult because of emotions and family ties, such as grandparents’ love for their grandchildren. Yet, this is a test of loyalty to God…Anyone who is feeling the sadness and pain that the disfellowshipped relative has thus caused may find comfort and be encouraged by the example set by some of Korah’s relatives” w88 4/15 pp. 26-31
Not only would the person leaving the Witnesses for another religion be shunned, they would be given the most severe label that the church assigns: Apostate.
- “Apostasy: Apostasy is a standing away from true worship, a falling away, defection, rebellion, abandonment. It includes the following:
- (1) Celebrating False Religious Holidays: (Ex. 32:4-6; Jer. 7:16-19) Not all holidays directly involve false religion and require judicial action.
- (2) Participation in Interfaith Activities: (2 Cor. 6:14, 15, 17, 18) Apostate acts include bowing before altars and images and sharing in false religious songs and prayers.-Rev. 18:2, 4.
- (3) Deliberately Spreading Teachings Contrary to Bible Truth: (2 John 7, 9, 10; /vs p. 245; it-1 pp. 126-127) Any with sincere doubts regarding the Bible truth taught by Jehovah’s Witnesses should be helped. Loving assistance should be provided. (2 Tim. 2:16-19, 23-26; Jude 22, 23) If one obstinately is speaking about or deliberately spreading false teachings, this may be or may lead to apostasy. If there is no response after a first and a second admonition, a judicial committee should be formed. Shepherd the Flock of God (Elder’s Manual) Chapter 12, Pg. 92
Because Watchtower asserts that it is the only organization that promotes “true worship,” anything else is deemed false. The loaded language in the elder’s handbook cited above illustrates this perfectly: If a Witness conscientiously disagrees with Watchtower’s interpretation of scripture and does not keep this to herself, this is spun as “spreading teachings contrary to Bible Truth.”
Apostasy itself is described by Watchtower as a “standing away from true worship,” meaning “any form of worship other than the one approved of by Watchtower.”
What if an active Jehovah’s Witness does not want to convert to another religion, but simply wishes to resign from the church?
- “…if a person who is a Christian chooses to disassociate himself, a brief announcement is made to inform the congregation, stating: “[Name of person] is no longer one of Jehovah’s Witnesses.” Such a person is treated in the same way as a disfellowshipped person.” od chap. 14 pp. 141-156
Therefore, contrary to what is stated on JW.ORG, the reality is that a Witness cannot convert to another religion without losing their entire social network, being shunned by their family, and labeled an “apostate.”