Jehovah's Witnesses are a Christian denomination with 7 million practicing members worldwide.
The group is well known for their door-to-door preaching, non-participation in politics (i.e. not voting), objection to war and military action, and refusal to accept blood transfusions.
Jehovah's Witnesses believe that blood is a sacred representation of life and that God forbids its use for purposes other than atonement for sin (sacrifice). They have thus forbidden their followers from eating meat from which the blood has not been drained, food products containing blood, and from receiving blood transfusions, regardless of its medical necessity and of the consequences to their life or health.
Specifically, they are directly forbidden from willingly accepting a transfusion of stored whole blood, red blood cells, white blood cells, platelets, and plasma, on penalty of excommunication and the threat of God's disfavor. Preoperative extraction followed by postoperative re-transfusion of their own blood is also banned, though certain intraoperative re-transfusion procedures are allowed.
They are directed to follow their own personal conscience in deciding to use other components of blood, or other products derived from or produced in blood (such as antivenins).
One of the controversial aspects of their refusal to accept blood transfusions is in that, against the advice of their doctors and surgeons, they often hold their critically ill minor children to the same rule, who are themselves not mature enough to decide to follow the belief willfully.
In some cases, the cult threatens parents with excommunication, demanding they prevent their child from being given a blood transfusion. In this situation, the parents are generally charged with negligence, and the children become wards of the state. Witnesses have been known to kidnap these children in order to allow them to die, rather than accept life-saving treatment. Parents who refuse to cooperate with the plot to return the children are again threatened with excommunication.
Jehovah's Witnesses claim that, while most churches count their membership by total annual or occasional attendance, they count their membership only by active participation in their ministry. Their membership numbers do not include children too young to participate officially, new members not yet qualified to participate, ex-members, or occasional members who do not submit monthly reports of time spent in the ministry.
While this is perhaps technically true, the statistics made available by the Jehovah's Witness organization are not limited to active membership alone. The statistics emphasized to members of the religion include:
- The number of active Witnesses submitting monthly ministry reports.
- The average number of studies of the Bible being conducted weekly.
- The annual attendance at the observation of the Last Supper.
Notably, the number of Bible studies quoted in the report includes parents formally teaching their children, and the observation of the Last Supper includes anyone who attends.
It is difficult to assess actual worldwide membership of Jehovah's Witnesses, given that none of the statistics provided specify usual or even annual church attendance.
The practice of excommunication, known among Witnesses as "disfellowshipping" and to some as "shunning", is used as punishment for breaking the tenets of the religion.
Members are prohibited from speaking to excommunicated members of the church, even when the outcast person is a member of their immediate family. Speaking regularly to an excommunicated person is itself a basis for excommunication, though more often (especially in the case of family) the penalty is exclusion from church activities.
Some exceptions are allowed where regularly speaking with the excommunicated person is required for other reasons, such as between married couples, for the care of minor children, child visitation and financial support, and for shared financial ventures and businesses.
Though an exception is made for existing business ties, the church discourages continuing such ties except as required by law.
A cult is popularly defined as a group that attempts to control the behavior, thinking, and emotions of a group by controlling the information available to that group. While this can apply to most religious practices, the term "cult" is usually not applied unless the control tends to harm members of the group. Witnesses control the group through guidance from the Watchtower, and threats of removing an individual's entire support structure through excommunication. These practices have lead to the death and disfigurement of numerous members of the group.