According to jw.org, the official website of Watchtower Bible & Tract Society of New York, Jehovah’s Witnesses are not a cult. It claims that “[t]he term cult means different things to different people”. Instead of arguing against an exhaustive list of rationales that define a cult, the website addresses only two.
Is a cult a new religious movement?
The first rationale they address is that “[s]ome think of a cult as being a new or unorthodox religion”. In their response they claim that Jehovah’s Witnesses have not invented a new religion but that their worship is based on Christianity that was started in the first century.
CESNUR, the Center for Studies on New Religions, is an organization that militantly defends Jehovah’s Witnesses. At the request of Jehovah’s Witnesses lawyer Shane Brady, representatives of CESNUR (Holly Folk, Massimo Introvigne and J. Gordon Melton), provided an Expert Opinion in January 2020 in an attempt to counter an independent report in the Netherlands criticizing Jehovah’s Witnesses handling of sexual abuse. In the report, the scholars identify themselves as “specialized in the study of new religious movements … [and] … have observed the Jehovah’s Witnesses internationally for several decades.” Professor Melton states that “[h]e is the author of numerous books on new religions, in many of which he has discussed the Jehovah’s Witnesses, which he has monitored for more than 50 years.” Holly Folk identifies herself as one who “has studied the theology and practices of Jehovah’s Witnesses within the framework of a comparative study of “new Christianities.” Furthermore, in their expert opinion, they use the term “cult” numerous times but never deny that Jehovah’s Witnesses are a cult. Instead they finish their opinion piece by stating that the media labeling Jehovah’s Witnesses as a cult may expose them to unfavorable public opinion.
Jehovah’s Witnesses are most definitely a new religion, or a new religious movement, having been founded in 1931. Even apologetics for the religious group do not deny that they are a cult. But what about whether they have a human leader?
Is a cult one with human leaders?
The second rationale jw.org addresses is that “[s]ome think of a cult as being a dangerous religious sect with a human leader”. In their response they claim that Jehovah’s Witnesses do not look to any human as their leader, but that only Jesus is their leader.
In March 2018, Gerrit Lösch, an Austrian member of the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses, claimed in a JW Broadcast that Jehovah and Jesus trust him and his colleagues, and therefore all adherents should trust them too. Gajus Glockentin, a German lawyer and a member of the Publishing Committee at World Headquarters, re-emphasized this trust in July 2020 when he alluded to the fact that adherents should have “complete trust in the Governing Body” while alleging that so-called apostates claims are lies designed to undermine that trust.
Clearly, the Jehovah’s Witnesses do look to humans as their leaders. They are required to put complete trust in the Governing Body. Why would there be a need to put complete trust in any human if your only leader is Jesus? Indeed, the Bible provides enough warnings about trusting mere humans. – Psalm 118:8,9; 146:3; Isaiah 2:22; Jeremiah 10:23; 17:5.
It’s evident that Jehovah’s Witnesses are a cult, but are they a dangerous religious sect? Let’s consider two common practices of Jehovah’s Witnesses. They demand that members die rather than accept a life-saving blood transfusion. They require families to shun family members who are cast out of the religious group for reasons that include but are not limited to an individual no longer believing or not wanting to conform to the religious tenets. We’ll leave you to decide whether you consider these practices dangerous or not.