This week, members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses faith are going door-to-door to distribute invitations to its three summer conventions, the first opening this weekend at the Colonial Life Arena near downtown Columbia.
The undertaking has required about 22,000 volunteers, said spokesman Kirby Flodin, but the outreach is in keeping with this worldwide religious organization that claims first century Christianity as its model. The Jehovah’s Witnesses are known for distributing tracts such as “The Watchtower” and “Awake!” that state their belief that the end times are near when Jesus Christ will return again to rule the Earth.
The Jehovah’s Witnesses district conventions marked by Bible study, drama and baptism. This year’s theme, “God’s Word is Truth!” will extend through all three conventions, this weekend July 5-7 and July 12-14.
The events, which are free and open to the public, draw about 8,000 people each weekend.
Bill Sims Jr., a longtime Jehovah’s Witness, said events such as the Boston Marathon bombings and the massacre of the Sandy Hook school children lead many people to question the existence of God or blame him for the world’ s problems. He believes the rise of atheism is related to that sense of loss and sees the conservative teachings of his faith as a path to raising families with strong moral character.
Jehovah’s Witnesses grew out of the 19th century teachings of Charles Taze Russell, a Pennsylvania evangelist who took issue with many mainstream Christian beliefs, including the existence of the Trinity. Russell and his followers, including Joseph Rutherfood, believed that the world was in its last days, and preached that only 144,000 would be taken into heaven with other followers existing in a separate earthly paradise. That belief remains a tenet of the faith today.
Jehovah’s Witnesses believe in the inerrancy of the Bible and spread their beliefs through door-to-door evangelism. Through the years they have undergone persecution because they do not vote, oppose military service and refuse to salute the American flag or say the Pledge of Allegiance because of their interpretation of biblical teachings.
Many also refuse blood transfusions and do not donate blood because they read certain scriptures as prohibiting the ingestion of blood.
“We don’t (take transfusions) because we believe it is a direct command from God,” said Flodin, who lives in the Charleston area and belongs to a Kingdom Hall there. He said with the progress in medicine and bloodless surgery, Jehovah’s Witnesses believe many alternatives are available.
There are about 22,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses in 200 congregations in South Carolina and 7.5 million Jehovah Witnesses worldwide.