Jehovah's Witnesses, Christian group originating in the United States at the end of the 19th cent., organized by Charles Taze Russell, whose doctrine centers on the Second Coming of Christ. The Witnesses believe that the event has already commenced; they also believe the battle of Armageddon is imminent and that it will be followed by a millennial period when repentant sinners will have a second chance for salvation. The Witnesses base their teaching on the Bible. They have no churches but meet in buildings that are always named Kingdom Hall. There are no official ministers because all Jehovah's Witnesses are considered ministers of the gospel. Their views are circulated in the Watchtower, Awake!, and other publications and by house-to-house canvasing carried on by members. Since their beginning, the Witnesses have been the subject of harassment virtually everywhere that they have been active. Regarding governments as the work of Satan, the Witnesses refuse to bear arms in war or participate in the affairs of government. Their refusal to salute the flag brought about a controversy that resulted in a decision in their favor by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1943. The Witnesses insist upon a rigid moral code and refuse blood transfusions. Before 1931, Jehovah's Witnesses were called Russellites; abroad the movement is usually known as the International Bible Students Association. Active in almost every country in the world, the group has more than 1 million members in the United States.
See studies by W. J. Whalen (1962), W. C. Stevenson (1967), J. Bergman (1984), and M. J. Penton (1988).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.