Note: All italics, bolding and underlining in this article are to highlight key points relevant to the subject under discussion.Likely, you have heard the lie parroted by many opposers that the Jehovah’s Witness organization prohibits the pursuit of a college education. Is this true? The simple truth is that Witnesses young and old alike have to make their own decisions as regard to what and how much education they need.
However, as a Christian organization, Jehovah’s Witnesses provide guidelines designed to help individuals ‘count the cost’ of pursuing a college education while working to live up to their Christian dedication. (Luke 14:28) So what do our publications say about pursuing a college education? Do we prohibit it?
“Prohibit” Obtaining a College Education? Where?Jehovah’s Witnesses do not prohibit college education. And to be honest, they do not encourage it either. What Jehovah’s Witnesses have done over the decades is issue balanced warnings against pursuing a college education for the wrong reasons, while urging members to think about why they are pursuing a college education using questions like: “What are my goals in life?”, or “am I looking to support my service to God, or get ahead in this world?”. These are very logical questions for any Christian to ask themselves.
As far back as the 1950s, we have published information that leaves it up to the individual. Consider this statement from the May 15th, 1956 Watchtower p. 313, par. 14:
“He must decide whether his ambitions are toward the popular trend of materialism or not—whether he desires to get ahead in the world, to attain a high position and honor and esteem of men which a college education subsequently leads to. In making his decision he must bear in mind the question: How will this affect my position in the New World society and my relationship toward Jehovah God?”In that same article, we read:
“Whether a person should or should not seek such higher education is dependent on the individual and what he desires to gain from life, present and future.”Do those sound like prohibitions to you? Absolutely not! Are we the only ones that have similar views? Consider statements in the New York Times by Lawrence Mishel, President of the Economic Policy Institute in Washington DC:
“Our opposers ignore the fact that not all educated people view college as the “panacea” (cure-all). After all, not many things stoke the flames of prejudice and fear more than convincing others that Jehovah’s Witnesses want to control you and your children by removing education as an option. This is why we urge all readers to look into our beliefs for themselves to get the facts. (Acts 17:10, 11)
. . .We also need to prepare many students for jobs that don’t require college degrees. . . .A four-year college degree is not the panacea that many people think it is. . . .There is plenty of snobbery afoot regarding college educations. Some esteemed academics — conservative and liberal — wrongly equate college graduates with ‘smart people’ and ‘skilled workers.’ Many conservative and liberal educational policy experts demean destinations other than college. We need a nation that has and values all sorts of work and skills, which means providing decent pay and benefits for many types of jobs.”
Let us compare the statements from the 1950's with our most recent teachings on this issue. In reviewing the January 2015 JW Broadcast, the one claimed by our opposers to be “anti-education”. In that video, (starting at 4:11) Anthony Morris of the Governing Body made statements reaffirming the position we have maintained since the 1950s:
“Ultimately, it is the decision of the parents as to the amount of the secular education they feel is necessary for a child to later care for a family of his own.What the preceding statements demonstrate is that, far from prohibiting college education, we are teaching people to think for themselves, and reason on the matter, before making a decision, and not to blindly follow the trends of the world around us. (Proverbs 1:4; Romans 2:12)
. . .So parents and children, you need to have a goal, and you need to have a plan. If you are missing either one, Satan will provide it for you. Young people, ask yourself: Why am I considering additional education? Is it because I am pursuing a specific skill or trade to support my service to Jehovah…?”
In contrast, among Jehovah’s Witnesses are doctors, lawyers, scientists, educators and so on; fields of expertise that would require a college education. Logically then, such individuals would not qualify to become one of Jehovah’s Witnesses if we prohibited college education.
Do we “Discourage” Getting a College Education?Some mischaracterize the warnings and guidelines we provide as “frowning on” or “discouraging” college education. College education is not itself discouraged; however, what we caution on is the emphasis that is usually placed on gaining material and social success, which runs counter to the advice of Jesus and John. (Matthew 6:19-21; 1 John 2:15, 16)
Our organization exists to build faith in God and to help people get on the road that leads to everlasting life, hence, it is our responsibility to provide warnings on what could lead one away from that road. (1 Timothy 6:9-12)
So what are some of the claims made by opposers that serve as “evidence” that we discourage college education itself? Consider several articles that our opposers like to quote.
“Rather than being content with ‘sustenance and covering,’ those who devote themselves to getting a ‘higher education’ usually want to be able to enjoy ‘the rest of the things’ that money can buy.” —Watchtower, February 1, 1967, p. 76This article is cited as evidence that we teach a causative relationship between college and materialism. What this article connects is materialism with discontent with sustenance and covering, not college education. It is saying that when people become discontented with sustenance and covering, they usually seek college so they can buy more things. Jehovah’s Witnesses do not teach that all who attend college do so for materialistic reasons, as you will see later.
Let us move on:
“University and college campuses are notorious for bad behavior—drug and alcohol abuse, immorality, cheating, hazing, and the list goes on.” —Watchtower, October 1, 2005, p. 28According to some of our opposers, this statement is cited as proof that we ‘demonize’ college. But they fail to understand what it says. It says “college campuses” (indicating dorm room life) are notorious for those things – it does not say “college” itself. This means other options are available such as attending a college near home that enables students to live off-campus, or securing housing that allows living away from campus, or even online courses. The point our organization is making is to avoid environments that would jeopardize our spiritual welfare.
“How sad that some have fallen away from the faith as a result of succumbing to the demands on their time and energy or of getting entangled in unscriptural conduct at college!” —Watchtower, October 1, 2005, p. 29Our opposers claim that by this quote, Jehovah’s Witnesses are saying university is the cause of some leaving the faith, and thus should be avoided to keep ones faith intact. While it is true that some have left the faith after attending college, this article is linking the “demands” and “unscriptural conduct” as the reason some have “fallen away from the faith”, not simply attending college.
Jehovah’s Witnesses issue similar warnings about the workforce. Demanding jobs and engaging in unscriptural conduct on the job can lead to a loss of faith, so does that mean that Jehovah’s Witnesses are telling their members not to go to work? Hardly. But our opposers don’t want you thinking that far.
“Are we encouraging young ones, who are often steered by schoolteachers and others to pursue the world’s higher education, to set spiritual goals instead and pursue the highest education—divine education?” —Our Kingdom Ministry October, 2011, p. 3It is claimed that Jehovah’s Witnesses are hypocritical with this statement because we “take advantage” of those who have college educations to advance our preaching work. However, a ‘hypocrite’ is one who professes a belief, but acts in a way that disagrees with that belief. What would make us hypocritical is if the Governing Body were doing the opposite of what they are saying. The simple fact that college educated Jehovah’s Witnesses exist does not make us hypocrites. We do not prohibit college education, so how can we be hypocritical by using those who have college educations?
What we learn thus far is that Jehovah’s Witnesses do not prohibit college education or discourage it. Rather, we simply offer guidelines that assist Jehovah’s Witnesses in having the right motivations if they chose to attend a university, and we educate them on the obvious spiritual dangers that can accompany college life. Secondly, we encourage less time-consuming alternatives that will be discussed next.
What We EncourageWhile Jehovah’s Witnesses neither encourage nor discourage college education, they have acknowledged the benefit of secular education overall and endorse options that would not put a Christian in spiritual harm. Note the November 1, 1992 Watchtower, p. 17:
“Their schooling will teach them not only many subjects but also the learning process. True Christians do not stop learning and studying when they leave school. What they get out of their studying, however, will greatly depend on their knowing how to study. Both secular and congregation schooling can help them to develop their thinking abilities.”Page 18 of that same article states:
“Some have taken training courses that have opened up job opportunities enabling them to engage in or resume full-time service. One sister in the Philippines was the family breadwinner, but she wanted to pioneer. The branch reports: ‘She has been able to do this because she has received additional education to qualify as a certified public accountant.’ The same branch report stated: ‘We have quite a number who are studying and at the same time have been able to arrange their schedules to pioneer. Generally they become better publishers as they are more studious, provided they do not become overly ambitious in worldly pursuits.’”Consider the March 8th, 1998 Awake!, p. 21:
“Some Christians have found that pursuing additional education, in the form of either academic or vocational studies, has assisted them in caring for their family’s material needs. Caring for one’s family is proper, for ‘providing for one’s household’ is a sacred duty. (1 Timothy 5:8) Gaining the skills needed to do this is a matter of practical wisdom.”Added to this, our organization encourages other alternatives that will not consume too much of the time that could be devoted to being a disciple of Christ. (Matthew 16:24)
One such recent example is noted in the January 2015 JW Broadcast mentioned in the outset. Philip Brumley, legal counsel for Jehovah’s Witnesses, stated that instead of becoming a doctor, one could become a nurse, and instead of becoming a lawyer, one could become a paralegal. His point was to encourage his listeners to select a career which would allow them to take care of themselves and support their Kingdom activity.
The April, 1999 Our Kingdom Ministry, p. 8 said this:
“What have you cultivated as your prime concern during your youth? Are you mainly interested in seeking financial advantage, or do you really want to use your life to advance Kingdom interests? A university degree does not guarantee success in the job market. As an alternative, many have acquired marketable job skills by means of apprenticeship programs, some vocational or technical school education, or short-term college courses that require a minimum of time and involvement”.I would like to just reiterate the fact that Jehovah’s Witnesses are a spiritual organization with the goal of helping people become followers of Christ. (Matthew 28:19-20) This helps add context to the reason why we encourage the type of education that would assist in advancing this purpose, instead of education that would detract from that purpose. Speaking of following Jesus, what were his views on higher education?
What Was Important to Jesus?Jesus was the wisest man to ever walk the earth, however, it was well-known and openly acknowledged that he did not attend the schools of higher learning. (John 7:15) When Jesus chose his 12 Apostles, these men were evidently chosen because of their faith, not because of their level of education. (Acts 4:13) Jesus revealed that Jehovah favored humble people, not those who relied on their own intellectual capabilities. (Matthew 11:25) The Apostle Paul, who studied under the tutelage of Rabbi Gamiliel who is probably the most famous Rabbinic scholar in history, all but abandoned those teachings to follow Jesus. (Philippians 3:7,8) His reasoning had become completely foreign to the Pharisaic schools.
What is the point? That we endeavor to follow in Jesus footsteps. Higher education was not itself condemned by Jehovah or Jesus, rather, it was not the priority for them. Likewise, Jehovah's Witnesses do not condemn getting a college education, but we prioritize "seeking first the Kingdom" just like Jesus recommended. (Matthew 6:33)
In review, Jehovah’s Witnesses do not prohibit college education, nor do we generally encourage it. We offer guidelines that discourage attending college for the wrong reasons, and warn of the spiritual harm that could result. However, each Witness ultimately has to make their own decision and cannot blame others for their choice. We respect and acknowledge the place education has in our society, and encourage worthy alternatives to four or more years of college education for those who are considering it.