For a religious community that is often misunderstood and sometimes maligned or mocked, we don’t learn much from our experience. I can’t tell you how often I hear underhanded remarks about other religious groups. Its not a common topic of conversation, but when the subject turns to Jehovah’s Witnesses, and in almost any setting, you are bound to hear jokes. Like Mormons, the faithful really do stick out in a crowd. With my background in having studied with them, I thought it might be fun to examine the “peculiar” similarities between Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses. We may be more alike than you think.
- Member Missionaries
This is probably the most clear parallel. Most people who know nothing about either group can identify with an image of either the guys in suits on bikes, or the families knocking doors on Saturday mornings with a handful of Watchtower magazines. Some people think they are from the same church. Being a faithful and active Jehovah’s Witness is similar to being Mormon, in that there is an implied call to missionary work. You are called to step out of your fears of alienating yourself socially and proselyte to your own community and friends.
- Defining Praxis
If Mormons are defined to the unfamiliar by the missionaries, we are most likely defined to the familiar by the commitment to “clean living” as punctuated by abstinence from alcohol, tobacco, and caffeine. Likewise, the peculiarity of Jehovah’s Witnesses is expressed to the familiar in their rejection of holidays and customs and refusing blood transfusions. Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that holidays essentially consist of giving praise or glory to someone or something other than God, which is unacceptable. Also, most holidays originate from rituals and religions very different from the people who observe them today. For JW’s, if its not approved in the Bible its a no go. Blood transfusions are equated to consuming blood, which is prohibited in the Bible.
For the average mainstream Mormon, the millennium is not really a major focus on their mind, but it is still considered an event or stage that is extremely important and most likely coming soon. I’ve heard many conversations speculating on when the Second Coming might occur. With the Jehovah’s Witness friends I had, it was an obsession. Their life was hard in high school. Constantly mocked by the cool crowd, chronically outcast from even the outcasts. The Second Coming represented a turning of the tables, at least to my friends. They would tell me about dreams they would have wherein they would be riding horses alongside the horsemen of the apocalypse slashing down the wicked, including the jerks from school. They really did glory in scriptures describing how the wicked would be burned as stubble during Armageddon.
- Community Isolation
On the ugly side, we have a term for our own religious, separatist elitism. “Utah Mormon”. To me this term represents behavior like parents not allowing their kids to play with non-Mormons, or the kids choosing to be exclusive on their own. This problem exists for Jehovah’s Witnesses, too. I initially met my friends at school because of our shared interest in punk rock, illustration, and skateboarding. I wanted to come over to their house to play on their skate ramp, and they told me their mom would not permit it unless I began the equivalent of “taking the discussions” with them.
- Other churches as abominations
Recent LDS rhetoric has been much more ecumenical, but our Mormon past has been clearly marked by a belief that our church is God’s only official and authorized church on the Earth. The party line for Jehovah’s Witnesses as I knew them was pretty much equivalent to the harshest McKonkie-esque expressions. All other churches are collectively the Church of the Devil. This attitude greatly contributes to the whole reveling in the destruction of the wicked and the separatism mentioned earlier.
- Jehovah is Jesus
In JW theology, Jehovah is the God of the Old Testament. The name emphasis is common between us, as well as Jews, but
JW’s also believe in a more trinitarian view that Jehovah became Jesus as He left His heavenly throne to become mortal and redeem us.Of course, in Mormon theology, we technically believe the same thing. Jehovah was the God of the OT and left that position to come to Earth as Jesus. We only differ in that we believe there is another god (Heavenly Father or Elohim) ranking higher and kind of behind the scenes. Incidentally, JW prayers are said directly addressing Jehovah, not seeing a need for Jesus to mediate prayers.
Edit: My memory was totally off on this one. See the comments below for corrections.
- The influence of Satan
The war in heaven mentioned in the book of Revelation that Mormons interpret to have occurred before the mortal stage, JW’s believe was a prophecy of 1914. They believe that World War 1 was the signal that Satan had been cast down to Earth. While we differ wildly in that view, we do share in common a heavy sense of the influence of Satan all around us, and often use similar terminology in church meetings with imagery of war and battle with the forces of evil.
- Calling and Election Made Sure
While the Mormon view of this is that some people (Moses, Elijah, City of Enoch, Joseph Smith) can be guaranteed exaltation before their death, and there is a controversial rumor of a special temple ceremony that seals this on the lucky recipient as well, its not really a core principle doctrine for us. For Jehovah’s Witnesses, their view of the afterlife is different and similar at the same time. Like looking at Mormon doctrine with a kaleidoscope. There is an equivalent of a Celestial kingdom. 144,000 persons who were worthy of exaltation to live with Jehovah, and the rest of humanity who is good will live in a paradise on Earth (millennium, anyone?). Interestingly, the 144,000 are believed to mostly have been born before 1935 (when the WatchTower Society supposedly declared the gates of heaven to be shut). This is a stark contrast to the popular Mormon belief that the best have been saved for last.
I’m sure there are other distinctions and parallels, but its been a while and this is already a fairly long article so I’ll stop there. You may find it interesting to note that in a recent beliefnet article, Jehovah’s Witnesses were identified as the fastest-growing religion in North America with over 1 million members and a growth rate of 2.25%. We were #4 with 5.7 million US members and a growth rate of 1.56%. Here’s the official site of the Jehovah’s Witnesses for those curious among you.