America's 1.3 million Jehovah's Witnesses will be sitting out this election
- America's 1.3 million Jehovah's Witnesses do not vote, run for public office, serve in the military, recite the Pledge of Allegiance, or take "any action to change governments."
- The Witnesses are among the only religious groups that are explicitly taught to be apolitical.
- It's unclear how Jehovah's Witnesses would vote if they engaged in politics — they are socially conservative, but racially diverse and evenly spread across the country.
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Almost 100 million eligible Americans did not vote in the 2016 presidential election. Jehovah's Witnesses, who number at 1.3 million in the US, are among them.
Like political candidates, Witnesses are perhaps best known for knocking doors and passing out brochures on street corners in their efforts to grow their membership.
But the Christian denomination instructs its followers not to vote, run for public office, serve in the military, recite the Pledge of Allegiance, or take "any action to change governments." Witnesses believe they should only be loyal to and representatives of "God's kingdom" and should take "no part of the world."
Mark Silk, director of the Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life and a professor of religion at Trinity College, said Witnesses are "hostile to all kinds of patriotic exercises."
"They sort of exist in a world outside of other institutions and participating in them — participating in civil society — is just something that they don't do, have never done," Silk told Insider. "They have kind of taken themselves out of wanting to engage in any kind of activity that binds them to larger social processes."
If Jehovah's Witnesses did engage in politics, experts say their political allegiances would likely reflect a cross-section of American society given the group's large size, diversity, and even spread across the country.
The denomination is socially conservative — they oppose homosexuality and abortion in most cases and teach Creationism. But the vast majority — 75% — of Witnesses in the US say they're politically independent, according to 2016 Pew polling.
Notably, the denomination is one of the most racially and ethnically diverse of any religious group in the US. A large majority of witnesses are people of color — 32% are Hispanic, 27% are Black, and 36% are white, according to 2016 Pew polling. They are also predominantly women and lower-income — 48% of Witnesses in the US make less than $30,000 a year and 65% of the denomination's following are women.
"If you were to imagine [Witnesses] could vote, there might be a kind of social conservatism combined with economic progressivism," Matthew Schmalz, a professor of religious studies at the College of the Holy Cross, told Insider.
The denomination claims that the COVID-19 pandemic is evidence that the world is experiencing "the last days" before God establishes his kingdom on Earth led by Christ.
Schmalz said the social and political upheaval the US and the world are experiencing may confirm Witnesses' belief that human institutions can't solve human problems.
"I think that there is a kind of attitude of, 'Well, we told you so,' when they see social chaos, whether it's COVID, or the antics of the Trump administration, or threats of war in the Middle East — that these are all potential signs that the end times are upon us and that human efforts are really in the end for naught," Schmalz told Insider.
The Witnesses' rejection of politics allows them to attract members across the ideological spectrum and on opposing sides of armed and civil conflicts.
"That's an asset," J. Gordon Melton, a professor of American Religious History at Baylor University, told Insider. "It will always keep them as a minority religion, but in their own terms it will keep them growing."
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