Learn more about South Valley’s Jehovah’s Witnesses, what they
believe and some common misconceptions
Most people can make a few basic associations with Jehovah’s Witnesses: They are people who go door to door to talk about their faith and who don’t celebrate birthdays. But that is often where correct associations end and false ones begin, including that Jehovah’s Witnesses refuse all medical care and that they are part of a cult.
To shed light on beliefs of people who are part of “the truth,” which is what Jehovah’s Witnesses call their faith, we went to the source. Elders Rick Goodgion and Tim Taormina of the Gilroy Jehovah’s Witnesses congregation and Ralph Esquivel of Morgan Hill’s congregation sat down to set the facts straight on their faith.
Q: Where and when do you worship, and what are your leaders called?
A: Jehovah’s Witnesses meet three times a week. Most of the meetings are at the Kingdom Hall. The Sunday session is about two hours, and the other two sessions are between an hour and an hour and a half. One of these meetings is a book study time, and for that they generally meet at someone’s home. During services, members of the congregation give talks on relevant topics concerning Christian living, demonstrations are given to help with public ministry, and they do Bible studies and have discussions on the material.
Jehovah’s Witnesses’ leaders are called “elders” and are always men. The governing body of the faith is a group of senior elders who meet in New York.
Kingdom Halls are not decorated with statues of religious icons as some Christian churches are. Occasionally, paintings can be found on the walls depicting scenes from the Bible or of educational material.
Crosses and crucifixes are not used in Kingdom Halls because Jehovah’s Witnesses believe the original scriptural text doesn’t specify that Jesus died on a cross.
Q: What do you believe?
A: “We’re Christians. We believe the inspired teachings of the Bible to be everlasting,” Goodgion said. “We believe Jehovah, the one God, has no beginning and no end. We believe that Jesus was the son of Jehovah, and we believe in living a Christian life.”
Q: Who are the key figures in your faith?
A: “Jehovah and his son, Jesus Christ,” said Goodgion. “‘Jehovah’ is actually God’s name in English.”
“We believe that Jehovah is the one God and he sent his son, Jesus, to save us,” Esquivel said.
Q: What are your beliefs about the
afterlife? Who is “saved?”
A: “Those who are saved are those who believe in Jehovah as the one God and that he sent his son, Jesus,” Esquivel said.
Q: What are your holy books?
A: Their holy book is the Bible, though they don’t refer to the two parts as “Old Testament” and “New Testament.” Instead, they refer to them as the “Hebrew Scriptures” and the “Greek Scriptures.” Jehovah’s Witnesses also believe that in the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament), only the books up to Malachi are inspired scriptures from God. They consider the books included in some versions of the Bible between Malachi and the Greek Scriptures (New Testament), called the Apocrypha, to be historical information only.
The Bibles Jehovah’s Witnesses use are a particular translation that closely keeps to early translations as opposed to newer versions such as the King James translation.
Q: How far does your faith date back?
A: “Charles Taze Russell was an avid Bible student back in the mid-1800s,” Taormina said. “The more he read, the more he felt he should warn people that several modern perceptions of the scriptures were inaccurate. For example, the concept of hell as a fiery pit where people were tormented for eternity isn’t what the original versions of the Bible taught. So, he began organizing groups of people to study the Bible. They were just known as ‘Bible students’ for a long time, but the organization grew to be an international organization, and finally in 1931, the faith adopted the name ‘Jehovah’s Witnesses.'”
Q: Where does the name of your faith come from?
A: In the book of Isaiah, chapter 43, verse 10, it says, “You are my witnesses, says Jehovah, my servants whom I have chosen … .” There are several other references to people being Jehovah’s witnesses in the Bible, which is where the faith’s name originated.
Q: What are the important holidays in your faith and what are the customs involved in their celebration?
A: “We observe the Memorial of Jesus Christ and his death,” Esquivel said. “We use the Jewish calendar to know the date, but it often falls near Easter.”
“We have several other events during the year, but we don’t generally refer to them as ‘celebrations,'” Taormina explained. “We have an annual convention each year and two smaller assemblies. This is when the many congregations across a geographic region come together for talks, demonstrations, Bible studies and talking about the many aspects of Christian life.”
Q: What role do women play in your faith?
A: Women play an important role in the faith by teaching other women new to the faith and training their daughters. They also play a large role in door-to-door preaching.
In home life, Jehovah’s Witnesses’ women are submissive to their husbands, which Goodgion called “God’s natural arrangement of things.” Women are encouraged to offer input in household decisions, but the husband is ultimately responsible for those decisions.
“Don’t get us wrong, the scriptures make it plain that husbands must treat their wives with due honor,” Esquivel said. “In Genesis, Eve was created as a compliment to Adam, not as a slave. Throughout the Bible, we see husbands treating their wives with respect. In fact, the first two people to see Jesus resurrected were women.”
Q: What are common misperceptions about your faith?
A: “Probably one of the biggest misperceptions is that we don’t believe in Jesus Christ,” Taormina said. “We hear that more than any other. People open their door and see us, and they say, ‘Stop right there, you don’t believe in Jesus.’ That simply isn’t true.”
Q: Why did you choose this faith?
A: Rick Goodgion was raised Baptist. About the time he was 13, two Witnesses came to the door and his mother began studying the faith. He converted at age 17 and was baptized as a Jehovah’s Witness at 18.
Tim Taormina, though always religious, spent an extended period of time studying the Bible in his early 20s. When he began studying the Jehovah’s Witness faith, he said he felt like “the pieces of the puzzle just came together.”
Ralph Esquivel’s wife became a Jehovah’s Witness after two women came to their door, dropping off information over the course of about a year. A short while after she converted, he began to study the faith and decided to convert, too.
Three questions specific to the faith:
Q: What medical practices/procedures do you refuse or is it all of them?
A: Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that, according to scripture, blood is sacred. Therefore, they cannot donate blood or receive blood transfusions. If someone knows they’ll be having a surgery, they can discuss alternatives to transfusions with their doctor. They also cannot give their own blood to be used during a future operation they plan to have done. They are willing to sacrifice their lives to follow the laws written in the Bible, Goodgion said. They can and do accept almost all other forms of medical treatments.
“We carry advance directives with us, saying that we cannot have blood given to us,” Esquivel said, pulling out a card he carries in his wallet that says in large letters ‘No blood.’ “Most of us have also signed releases for our doctors releasing them of responsibility if there is loss of life or limb because we cannot accept blood transfusions.”
Q: Do you celebrate birthdays and anniversaries?
A: Jehovah’s Witnesses only observe the Memorial because it is the only event the scriptures specifically say Christians should observe. Scriptures don’t talk about Jesus having birthday parties or other figures celebrating anniversaries.
Q: Why do you go door to door?
A: “If you were to order the things that are most important to us as Christians, we would say there are four,” Taormina said. “First would be to please God and to be obedient to Him and to bring Him honor. Second would be our families and caring for them spiritually, emotionally and materially. Third would be caring for our brothers and sisters in the congregation. Fourth is the community. We put a lot of value in our public ministry. We try to help people be better members of the community, better husbands and wives. Jehovah tells us to go out and bring his message to others.”
In Matthew, chapter 28, verse 19, Jehovah says, ” Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations…”