A Jehovah’s Witnesses Kingdom Hall in Hamburg became a horrific crime scene Thursday night when several people were killed or injured by a gunman during a community event. The perpetrator was a former member of the community.
With around 170,000 members, the Jehovah’s Witnesses are one of the largest minority Christian communities in Germany after the Orthodox churches. The organization is considered a sect, in part because of its strict discipline and millenarian belief in the imminent end of the world.
Jehovah’s Witnesses see themselves as the true Christians and pray to the “almighty and eternal God” they call Jehovah, who is seen as an invisible entity who exists independently of humanity but has a personal interest in each individual. The Witnesses regard Jesus Christ as the first and only creature created by God alone.
For them, there is only one truth, which is to be found in their translation of the Bible. From the Witnesses’ point of view, it contains the only true Word of God without error, and cannot be contradicted. Witnesses are also convinced that the Bible is the best guidance on ethics and morality.
At the heart of the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ message is their belief that the end times have already dawned. In this time, they as a believing minority, stand against an overwhelming majority, all of whom have fallen under the rule of Satan. As a chosen congregation, they believe they will be saved into a new world.
What role do Jehovah’s Witnesses play in Germany
According to the Protestant Central Office for Worldview Issues (EZW, or Evangelische Zentralstelle für Weltanschauungsfragen), a German Protestant organization that observes other religions in Germany and pursues theological debates with them, membership in the Jehovah’s Witnesses in Germany is stagnating. Nevertheless, Germany’s Jehovah’s Witness community remains one of the largest in Europe.
In 2006, the corporate status of Jehovah’s Witnesses was recognized, making them a recognized religious community under German state church law. This allows the organization to collect taxes from its members and to organize its internal church structures according to its own legal rules.
The corporate status was also considered a belated recognition for the suffering experienced by the community during the Nazi period when members were persecuted for refusing to pledge allegiance to Adolf Hitler. Hundreds of Jehovah’s Witnesses subsequently died in the concentration camps of the Third Reich.
Jehovah’s Witnesses are best known for their extensive missionary activities, which include offering free Bible courses and distributing their publications “The Watchtower” and “Awake!”
Their teachings are also represented on the internet. The community makes its texts available for free on its homepage in more than 1,000 languages in text, image, audio and video formats. The Witnesses refuse blood transfusions, do not celebrate birthdays or observe any religious holidays except for the Lord’s Evening Meal, which takes place on the same date as the Jewish Passover.
They describe themselves as politically neutral for religious reasons and therefore do not participate in elections. Worldwide, Jehovah’s Witnesses have about eight million members, with their “world headquarters” located in Warwick, New York.
The donation-funded group was founded toward the end of the 19th century by businessman Charles Taze Russell (1852-1916). Historically, Jehovah’s Witnesses are a late result of the so-called second great revival movement in the mid-19th century in the United States.
During this period, numerous Protestant religious communities emerged as a countermovement to the Enlightenment. Revival movements are currents in Christianity that emphasize the conversion of the individual, the experience of faith, and a strictly Christian, Bible-oriented way of life.
For decades, Jehovah’s Witnesses were one of the world’s fastest-growing religious communities, but that growth has slowed since the mid-1990s. According to the religious community’s own figures, it baptized roughly 250,000 to 300,000 believers globally each year before 2015. Germany’s EZW says that although numbers are fading, Witnesses have seen notable membership growth in Eastern Europe and Latin America.