Jehovah said, “This is the fast that I choose: . . . It is to share your bread with the hungry, to bring the poor and homeless into your house, to clothe someone naked when you see him, and not to turn your back on your own flesh. Then your light will shine through like the dawn, and your healing will spring up quickly. Your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of Jehovah will be your rear guard.” (Isaiah 58:6a, 7, 8a)
It is our hope that you examine the evidence below with an open heart and mind, and see that the Witnesses are charitable!
What does it mean to be Charitable?The word “charity” comes from the Koiné Greek word “charite”, often translated as “grace”, “mercy”, or “undeserved kindness”. It is in reference to a gift given for free, without the expectation of receiving anything in return.
What exactly does it mean to be charitable? According to Webster’s Dictionary, charitable means:
- “Full of love for and goodwill toward others.”
- “Liberal in benefactions to the needy”
- “Merciful or kind in judging others”.
A stricter definition as defined by Oxford’s Dictionary is: “(Of an organization or activity) officially recognized as devoted to the assistance to those in need”.
Using all of these definitions, it becomes quite obvious that Jehovah’s Witnesses are undoubtedly “charitable”. In fact, most people could qualify as a charitable person by these definitions.
Additionally, since we are a religious organization and are thus tax exempt in the US, IRC 501(c)(3) requires that we meet certain criteria, which includes being charitable in order to maintain that status. Needless to say, we have.
Case closed, right? One would think so! Let us consider some ways we are charitable first as an organization, and secondly, as individuals.
Charitable as an OrganizationAs Christians, Jesus is our example of charity. As a human, he demonstrated the type of charity that should be of utmost importance to Christians: the preaching and disciple-making work. (Mark 13:10, Matthew 28:19-20) Before his death, he stated his purpose for coming into the world: “For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth.” (John 18:37) [Emphasis mine]. When giving his disciples instructions and commissioning them to preach, Jesus stated: “You received free, give free. (Matt 10:7-8). How do Jehovah’s Witnesses imitate Jesus in this manner?
Spiritual CharityWhile many will claim that Jesus was “all about” material acts of kindness and generosity, his own statements demonstrate what was most important to him; the charity of a spiritual nature, without cost to the recipients. Like Jesus, we prioritize the preaching work. Each year, Jehovah’s Witnesses spend millions of hours preaching and teaching. From Sept 1, 2013, through Aug 31, 2014, Jehovah’s Witnesses reported nearly 2 billion hours in the preaching work, and averaged almost 10 million Bible studies conducted each month! Jehovah’s Witnesses are so well-known for their preaching work that it has drawn the ire of some to the point of inciting prejudicial bans specifically targeted at limiting or stopping our work altogether. (Read about one such case here.)
Without Cost - As did Jesus, Jehovah’s Witnesses also perform this ministry “without cost”. (1 Cor 9:18) Hence, we can say that we are not “peddlers of God’s Word” (2 Cor 2:17). What are some examples of this?
Bangkok, Thailand. Beginning in December 2012, Jehovah’s Witnesses in Bangkok showed their concern for the education of youths. They met with staff and students at schools throughout the region, offering them the October 2012 Awake! entitled: “How to Succeed at School”.
More than 650,000 copies were distributed, and a spokesman for Jehovah’s Witnesses stated: “Awake! highlights the time-tested wisdom found in the Bible, which truly benefits people today. Jehovah’s Witnesses believe strongly in the value of education, so we were happy to make this issue available to everyone, without charge.”
Africa. Jehovah’s Witnesses have also recognized the need for individuals to learn to read and write. In 2011, we assisted over 5,700 individuals in basic literacy. We have done this across the globe. Over time, we have helped 40,000 people learn to read and write in the nations of Ghana, Zambia and Mozambique alone. These literacy courses come without cost to the recipients. (Read here.)
United States. Daily, Jehovah’s Witnesses receive dozens of requests for spiritual help from inmates in U.S correctional facilities. We also arrange for regular visits to jails, prisons, state hospitals, youth facilities, and substance-abuse facilities, even arranging congregation meetings inside the prisons. In one case, 32 prisoners attended. (Read here.)
Material CharityJesus was also a practical man, realizing the importance of material charity. He encouraged his disciples to give “gifts of mercy”. (Or “Give in charity” or “give to charity”; Luke 12:33; New English Bible: A Translation in the Language of the People). Jesus “healed the sick”. (John 6:2) He also provided food for some 5,000 individuals. (John 6:4-13) While he did not specify ways in which his followers must be materially charitable, he did, however, see the need to organize efforts. He and his disciples took up a common fund for the poor. (John 12:6; 13:29) First Century Christians took up collections to give assistance on a larger scale. (Acts 2:44-45) How do Jehovah’s Witnesses imitate Jesus in this manner?
Common Fund – Local congregations take care of anyone who falls in need. There are two contribution boxes located in each Kingdom Hall, the “Local” and “Worldwide Work” boxes. Members are at liberty to decide which one to contribute to, and how much to contribute. They can also contribute to both. Monies donated are, in part, utilized to assist those in the local congregation and abroad.
At times, some may be in need of assistance from their local congregation. If anyone falls in need, that person is free to bring this to the attention of the Elders of that congregation, and request assistance. The congregation does not just extend assistance to anyone who requests it; there must be a genuine need for it. The Elders will meet to determine whether the person has simply fallen on hard times and genuinely needs assistance, or if he is able but unwilling to work. The Bible makes it clear that one has to work, if he is able, to support himself. If he is unwilling to work, assistance will not be extended to him. (2 Thessalonians 3:6-12)
The individual would also have to exhaust other resources such as looking for more suitable work, applying for Unemployment Assistance, requesting help from family within the congregation, or accepting assistance from family members that offer it to him. If he refuses to use these resources, congregational assistance will not be extended to him. (Philippians 4:10-13)
There even may be a time when no one is able to help the individual or family and if this happens, do we simply leave our fellow worshipers to public shelters? In harmony with James 2:16, we will not simply send them off telling them to “keep warm and well-fed”, however, the Elders will discuss how much financial assistance is needed, and set aside the necessary funds. (2 Corinthians 8:14)
A similar arrangement is in place for those who may be homeless. The Elders will seek out other local Witnesses who can accommodate them with shelter until such time arrives when that accommodation is no longer necessary. This assistance is thorough and given until the individual or family no longer needs it.
Disaster Relief - Jehovah’s Witnesses use voluntary contributions to the “worldwide work”, which serves as a common fund, earmarking a certain amount for disaster relief as a rainy day fund, so-to-speak. If anything more than what is available is needed, then the governing body will discuss diverting more funds to a particular disaster relief event. Donations are anonymous and there is no specified amount to give. (We do not tithe, openly or secretly, as our opposers claim. 2 Corinthians 9:6, 7) You can trust that these funds go directly to relief efforts, since we have no administration expenses because all the work is performed by unpaid volunteers. (2 Cor 8:20) (Read here.)
In harmony with the Bible at Galatians 6:10: “Let us work what is good toward all, but especially toward those related to us in the faith”, we give practical assistance to people who are Witnesses, and those who are not as well. We also provide the emotional and spiritual support the people in the affected region need at those times. (2 Corinthians 1:3,4) Here is one example:
Brazil. Starting in 2011, after floods and landslides killed hundreds of people, Jehovah’s Witnesses provided 42 tons of non-perishable food items, including 20,000 bottles of water, 10 tons of clothing, 5 tons of cleaning supplies, as well as medicine and other items. There are many more examples of this in various places like Japan, Congo, and Canada. (Read here.)
We have also been recognized for our disaster relief and refugee care in India, Tokyo, Indonesia, Ethiopia, Haiti, Bosnia, Croatia, the Congo, New Orleans, Rwanda and others. Think about the extent of this assistance, and perhaps the millions of dollars used to give others the help they need. This has not gone unnoticed.
Recognition of our Charity - Jesus provided a caution that we would do well to heed; he cautioned against making a show of charity – charity intended to glorify the giver rather than God. At Matthew 6:1-4, Jesus warned his followers to not “practice their righteousness in front of men to be noticed by them”, because they would “have no reward with [their] Father who is in the Heavens”. Put simply, our charity is not for the purpose of receiving praise from onlookers, but is to help our brothers and sisters and anyone else who needs it.
Though we do not blow a horn ahead of ourselves when we perform good works, some have seen our good works. (Matthew 5:16)
Piedmont, Northern Italy. In October 2000, a disastrous flood struck the Piedmont region. Again, the Witnesses promptly went into action to help provide relief. These fine works also did not go unnoticed. The Piedmont Region awarded them a plaque for their “precious voluntary work in support of the Piedmontese population affected by the floodings.”
Consider some statements published in our Jan 15, 2002 Watchtower: “The newspaper Il Centro reported: “The first to arrive with relief supplies in the affected areas were the Jehovah’s Witnesses of Roseto [in the province of Teramo] . . . Besides meeting periodically to pray, those faithful to Jehovah work in a practical way, holding out a hand to those who suffer, without worrying about which religion they belong to.” [Emphasis mine]
The mayor of Nocera Umbra, one of the towns most affected, wrote to the Witnesses: “I thank you heartily and personally for the aid offered to the population of Nocera. I am sure that I express the sentiments of all its citizens.” Additionally, the Ministry of the Interior awarded the Congregazione Cristiana dei Testimoni di Geova (Christian Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses) a certificate of merit and a medal “to testify to the work done and diligence offered in activities connected with the emergency that arose in the Umbria and Marche regions.”
In June 2013, Hungary experienced heavy rainfall, which caused rivers to flood. Witnesses were asked by the HMHR (Hungary Ministry of Human Resources) to assist in mitigating flood damage. 900 volunteers from 72 Congregations reinforced the riverbanks. The volunteers were asked by the authorities to wear a badge card with their name, the name of their home city and the words “Jehovah’s Witnesses,”.
In a message to a local congregation, a local Hungarian Red Cross representative was moved to say: “We owe you thanks and respect, since we rarely see examples of such unity and willingness to help—not to mention how far you traveled! I proudly highlight your marvelous example in our city!” (Read here.)
What we have discussed so far proves that, as an organization, Jehovah’s Witnesses are charitable. We are also charitable as individuals. Let us see how.
Charitable as IndividualsJesus was compassionate. He reached out to those in distress because he was deeply moved. The Bible uses a term to describe this compassion; he was “moved with pity”. This is an emotion that touches the very essence of a person’s humanity and thus, moves them to action! (Matt 20:29-34) Jesus often times took it upon himself to give practical help to those in need, even on one occasion, being “moved with pity” to heal a leper. (Mark 1:40-42). How have Jehovah’s Witnesses imitated Jesus in this regard?
Individual Charity to Fellow BelieversPersonally, I feel that I am a part of a true brotherhood, and I’d like to share a personal experience of mine. Three years ago, my wife and I fell on hard times. I was in between jobs and receiving unemployment benefits. I made the congregation elders aware of our situation, and even assured them that we could meet our basic necessities even with the reduced income. One day while sitting at home, my doorbell rings. To my surprise, one of the elder’s wives came over with a few bags of groceries for us. Speechless, I simply thanked my sister with a hug, and promised myself to pay it forward to others who may be in need.
This is evidence that Jehovah’s Witnesses do not simply leave charitable acts to their organization, nor do they simply donate money to large organizations in hopes that the money will get to where it is said to go – they get personally involved, wherever they can, and this is encouraged in our publications.
These publications relate many experiences of kindness and charity to those of our brothers and sisters. Here are just a few:
Ecuador. This is taken from the 2002 Yearbook of Jehovah’s Witnesses, p 48:
“A young man, baptized just this year, received his first student talk assignment in the main auditorium of the Kingdom Hall. He felt that giving the talk was such a privilege that he began to save money to buy a new suit. By the time he had saved $30, he learned of a sister in the congregation who had no money for medicine. He gave the sister the entire $30 he had saved, saying: “Jehovah will love me just as much when I give that talk in my old suit as he would if I gave it in a new one!””
This is taken from the 2004 Watchtower, December 15, p 22:
“One [Jehovah’s Witness] family suffered a sudden, compound tragedy. The father had taken his young daughter to the store with him. On the way home, they were in an automobile accident. The daughter was killed; the father, severely injured. Upon his release from the hospital, he was at first so disabled that he could do nothing for himself. His wife was too distraught emotionally to care for him alone. So a couple in the congregation took this grieving couple into their home and cared for them for several weeks.” (Read here):From the June 1, 2011 Watchtower, pp7-8:
When a financial crisis left some of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Ancón, Ecuador, without work or income, their fellow Witnesses decided on a way to raise money for them; they prepared food to sell to fishermen returning from a night of fishing (pictured at right). All in the congregation cooperated, including the children. They started at one o’clock each morning so that the food would be ready when the boats came in at four o’clock. The money raised by the Witnesses was shared according to each one’s need.
Individual Charity to Non-believersWhile Jehovah’s Witnesses strive to be charitable “toward those related to us in the faith”, we also “work what is good toward all” (Galatians 6:10). What examples do we have?
On the October 2015 JW Broadcast program, Gerrit Lösch, a member of the Governing Body, shared a real-life experience of a non-Witness individual who wrote to a local paper about “Mr. and Mrs. ‘Nice Guy’”. He explained how his neighbors had been kind to him after his wife died. Since his wife passed away, they have been “super”, he wrote. He related how they have been helpful and does chores for a “seventy-four year-old retiree”. What made this even more amazing is that they were black, he was white, they were Jehovah’s Witnesses, and he was a “drop-out Catholic”. (Listen here at 15:00 mark):
Even while engaging in our ministry, acts of kindness and charity to non-believers are random. Consider this experience from our May 2013 Watchtower, p 12:
“For instance, while preaching from door to door on one occasion, a pioneer was quickly dismissed by an elderly widow. She said that when he rang the doorbell, she was on a stepladder in the kitchen, trying to replace a lightbulb. “It isn’t safe for you to be doing that alone,” he said. The pioneer then changed the bulb and went on his way. When the woman’s son learned about what had happened, he was so impressed that he tried to find the brother in order to express his appreciation. Eventually, the son accepted a Bible study.”
Our November 2011 Awake!, has this experience: A sister named Karen saw three women stranded on the side of a road as she drove by. Two of the women needed to catch a flight. Even though they were waiting on a Taxi, which was running late, Karen offered to drive the women 45 minutes to the airport. The experience ends noting that two of the women Karen helped were Jehovah’s Witnesses, with one of the women being inactive. Still, this account qualifies as helping non-believers. Why? Because our sister had no idea the women were Jehovah’s Witnesses prior to assisting them.
Charity to Non-Witness RefugeesOur May 2017 Watchtower is filled with ways we can help "foreign residents" and non-Witness refugees. Page 7 paragraph 19 helps us to see a way we can assist these refugees. It states: "our primary mission is to help [non-witness refugees] spiritually, not materially". This does not mean that we will not help them at all, but that it is not our primary mission and making it clear that we are not there to help them indefinitely. We have helped ones with material assistance, but only after we have helped our brothers first. We do not let perishable supplies go to waste, but neither are we an aid organization with unlimited funding. We are a religious organization who helps our brothers. Focusing that help on our brothers in no way diminishes that we are performing charity, even if only our brothers were to benefit.
Individual Charity to OpposersNorthern England. The June 15th, 2009 Watchtower relates this experience:
A man was opposed to the refurbishing work proposed for the Kingdom Hall adjacent to his property. The local brothers responded kindly. Observing that the boundary wall between the Kingdom Hall and the neighbor’s property needed repair, they offered to do the work at no cost. They worked hard and, in fact, rebuilt most of the wall. They handled the situation so well that the neighbor had a change of heart. He now helpfully keeps an eye on the Kingdom Hall property.
Individual Charity to the DestituteIn our May 2015 Awake! magazine, two formerly homeless men named Joe and Martin shared their experiences. Joe first accepted literature from a sister and began attending meetings where he was treated with “kindness and respect”. Eventually, what he learned caused him to give up the bad habit of smoking which benefited his health and saved him money. He also learned the value of hard work, and the congregation assisted him in finding housing and other things he qualified for.
Martin one day simply walked into a Kingdom Hall with the same clothes on that he had been wearing for months. He eventually accepted a Bible study, and after making changes in harmony with Bible principles, received help from the Witnesses to find a job and a place to live.
In these two real-life experiences, Jehovah’s Witnesses assisted the homeless men in two very practical ways: They assisted the men in bringing their lives in harmony with Godly standards, and gave them material assistance which paid good dividends to the two men, who are now Jehovah’s Witnesses.
In our 2005 Yearbook, we read of loving Witnesses caring for orphans in harmony with James 1:27. A baptized Witness mother died, and she left behind four young sons, who came under the care of the grandmother. After the grandmother died, Witnesses took good care of the boys by paying their rent, buying them clothes, and studying the Bible with them.
Personal Charity EncouragedWe encourage individual acts of charity in our publications as well. Note these examples:
“We cannot anticipate every situation that would call for a display of goodness. As we face new challenges, then, let us seek light from the Scriptures, pray for Jehovah’s holy spirit, and do our very best to carry out his good and perfect will. (Romans 2:9, 10; 12:2) We can be confident that Jehovah will bless us abundantly as we keep on displaying goodness.” – Watchtower, January 15, 2002, pp 19-20
“One way we can imitate Jehovah’s goodness is by showing sincere concern for those not related to us in the faith” – August 2003 Our Kingdom Ministry p1
“When we have the opportunity, let us willingly forgo our preferences in behalf of others. By displaying love that ‘does not look for its own interests,’ we help to maintain peace within the congregation and with our neighbors” – February 15, 2009 Watchtower, p21
“Often, the best form of giving—and the most rewarding—is giving of ourselves, in the form of our time and energy” – November 15, 2011 Awake! p.8…and many more!
Are Jehovah's Witnesses Charitable?After considering these few examples of organizational and individual charity, what do you think?
Let us recap. Jehovah’s Witnesses are charitable in the following ways:
Philanthropic – We set aside funds for humanitarian purposes.
Humanitarian – Helping people, even of a different religion, to recover after a disaster strikes.
Altruistic – Showing selfless concern in both our preaching work and relief efforts.
Public-spirited – We are known for our public Ministry, spending millions of hours each year preaching and helping some to learn to read and write (using a specially designed publication we provide) so that they can learn to read their Bibles and we help people make positive changes in their lives, many turning around from criminal and high risk lifestyles.
Individually Charitable – Helping their brothers and sisters in the faith and non-believing strangers in need.
Contrast the volunteer spirit among our numbers with the lack of volunteer spirit of the world's largest Christian denomination.
Why this mattersOur opposers would like you to believe that the only thing Jehovah’s Witnesses are concerned with is giving out literature, and that we care nothing about the community. The truth is that we do not take efforts to make sure the world sees our charitable efforts, so they will often go unnoticed by most. We show concern for our communities by trying to follow the footsteps of Jesus “closely” by imitating him and his example of spiritual and material charity. (1 Peter 2:21) The message that we bring has helped people become honest in dealing with their fellow man, abandon destructive habits like smoking and heavy drinking, to treat their families with love and respect, and to love God.
Why Material Charity is Not EnoughKeep in mind that Jesus never told his disciples to “go, and open food drives for people of all nations”, but instead, he commanded that they “go and make disciples of people of all nations”. (Matt 28:19, 20) To say that Jehovah’s Witnesses are not charitable because they are not primarily concerned with feeding and clothing the homeless is to say that Jesus was not charitable because he was not primarily concerned with feeding and clothing the homeless. In fact, Jesus corrected those who only wanted food from him. He said: “Work, not for the food that perishes, but for the food that remains for everlasting life, which the Son of man will give you”. (John 6:27) This shows through his own words, that Jesus’ primary purpose was to feed people spiritually.
Also see the following:
Helping the Community
Organization Vindicated of "Smash-and-Grab" Lies
Jehovah's Witness Charity from Non-Witness Sources
Relief Efforts in Houston, TX
Katrina Relief Efforts
Relief Efforts in Haiti
Relief Efforts in Accra
Relief Efforts in Nepal
Jehovah's Witnesses Rebuild Home for Typhoon Victims
Jehovah's Witness Roofing Service
Jehovah's Witnesses Contribute to Literacy
Gary Halbert Letter