Do Jehovah’s Witnesses Pressure People to Change Religions?
No, we do not. We have stated in our principal magazine, The Watchtower: “Pressuring people to change their religion is wrong.” a We avoid pressuring people for the following reasons:
Jesus never pressured people to accept his teachings. He knew that relatively few would respond to his message. (Matthew 7:13, 14) When some of his disciples stumbled at what he said, he let them leave rather than coerce them into staying.—John 6:60-62, 66-68.
Jesus taught his followers not to push others to change their beliefs. Instead of trying to force people to accept the good news of the Kingdom against their will, his disciples were to look for listeners who were receptive.—Matthew 10:7, 11-14.
Conversions made under compulsion are meaningless, since God only accepts worship that comes from the heart.—Deuteronomy 6:4, 5; Matthew 22:37, 38.
Is our work proselytism?
It is true that we spread the Bible’s message “to the most distant part of the earth,” doing so “publicly and from house to house,” as commanded in the Bible. (Acts 1:8; 10:42; 20:20) And like the early Christians, we are sometimes accused of proselytizing illegally. (Acts 18:12, 13) However, those accusations are false. We do not try to force our beliefs on anyone. Instead, we believe that people should be allowed to take in knowledge so that they may make an informed choice.
We do not coerce people into changing religions, nor do we carry out political activity under the guise of religion or offer material or social advantages to gain new adherents. This is in contrast to some who claim to be Christian but have dishonored Christ by doing such things. b
Does a person have the 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. c 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.
Does religious conversion dishonor family traditions or customs?
This need not be the case. The Bible encourages respect for all, regardless of their religion. (1 Peter 2:17) In addition, Jehovah’s Witnesses obey the Bible’s command to honor their parents, even if they have different beliefs.—Ephesians 6:2, 3.
Still, not everyone agrees with the Bible’s viewpoint. One woman who grew up in Zambia relates: “In my community, changing one’s religion . . . was considered an act of disloyalty, a betrayal of one’s family and community.” This woman came face-to-face with this issue when as a teenager she began to study the Bible with Jehovah’s Witnesses and shortly thereafter decided to change her religion. She says: “My parents repeatedly told me that they were highly displeased with me and that I was letting them down. I found this very difficult, since my parents’ approval means a lot to me. . . . Choosing to be loyal to Jehovah rather than to religious traditions does not mean that I am being disloyal to my family.” d
a See the January 1, 2002, issue of The Watchtower, page 12, paragraph 15.
b For example, about the year 785 C.E., Charlemagne issued an edict that imposed the death penalty on people in Saxony who refused to be baptized as Christians. Also, the Peace of Augsburg, signed in 1555 C.E. by warring factions in the Holy Roman Empire, stipulated that each territorial ruler must be either Roman Catholic or Lutheran and that everyone under his rule had to adopt his religion. Those who refused to adhere to the ruler’s religion were required to emigrate.
c Similar rights are included in the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man, the 2004 Arab Charter on Human Rights, the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) Human Rights Declaration, the European Convention on Human Rights, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. However, even nations that claim to provide such rights vary in their actual commitment to provide those rights.
d Jehovah is the name of the true God as revealed in the Bible.