Political neutrality has long been a hallmark of Jehovah’s Witnesses, at least in theory if not always in practice. Any use of national flags, whether by means of saluting or displaying them, has traditionally been viewed as a forbidden form of idolatry – a rejection of “kingdom rule” in favor of human governments.
For example, a 1977 Watchtower insisted that “while respecting the rights of others to do what they want, Jehovah’s Witnesses do not share in flag ceremonies.” (w77 1/15 p.63)
Imagine, then, the surprise of many devout Witnesses to behold the spectacle of at least two kingdom halls in Chile displaying the national flag at the front of their buildings – alongside the JW.org logo!
Chile has a special two-day national celebration, known as Fiestas Patrias, on September 18th and 19th. On these two days, ALL public buildings are to display the national flag, either on a flag pole or otherwise adorning the front of the building. Any institutions that refuse to show the flag do so at the risk of paying a fine.
Though reportedly some congregations would rather pay the fine than display a national symbol on a building dedicated to worship, it seems not all the bodies of elders in Chile see it as a problem.
Some have suggested that the disparity has been caused by congregations being instructed by the branch that they can decide for themselves whether to show the flag or not, but that if they refuse to show it they will be liable themselves for paying any fine. This has yet to be verified.
Whatever the thinking behind this, to display national flags at the front of dedicated kingdom halls flies in the face of the supposed political neutrality stance – an issue that was highlighted so graphically by the Mexico-Malawi scandal of the 60s, 70s and 80s. It seems that the extent to which Witnesses observe political neutrality depends largely on what part of the world they live in and, crucially, how much money is involved.
One pro-Watchtower website has already expressed frustration at the issue. JW-Archive.org showed the photos with the comment: “My question to the Chilean brothers is… Why not just pay the fines? I am sure Brooklyn would pay them for you if you requested.”
If reports that Chilean elders were told to go it alone by Watchtower are really true, then “Brooklyn” would likely not be as enthusiastic to dip into its coffers on this matter as many Witnesses would like to think.