Jehovah’s Witnesses views on child baptism

Does the Bible teach infant baptism?

No, it does not. Christian baptism is for those old enough to understand and believe in “the good news of the Kingdom of God.” (Acts 8:​12) It is linked with hearing God’s word, accepting it, and repenting​—actions that an infant cannot take.​—Acts 2:​22, 38, 41.

Bible Questions Answered (ijwbq), article 110

When asked about infant baptism, all Jehovah’s Witnesses will answer clearly that no, Jehovah’s Witnesses do not practice infant baptism. They base this claim in the fact that a Christian must be able to consciously make a decision to accept the faith and Jesus’s sacrifice, and that’s something an infant cannot do. This does not mean that Jehovah’s Witnesses are against child baptism. In fact, Jehovah’s Witnesses not only do practice child baptism —they encourage it and put children at risk by the associated exclusionary practice of “shunning” those that are disfellowshipped or who disassociate from their faith. Let’s see how.

How young is too young?

A young child is baptized at a Jehovah’s Witness Convention. Image capture taken from the video “Song 135 Jehovah’s Warm Appeal: “Be Wise, My Son””.

For Jehovah’s Witnesses, the fine line between the definitions of “infant” and “child” is very important when stating they don’t practice “infant baptism”. For them, an “infant” is a very young baby or a toddler who is not able to make any decisions on their own. Considering this, it is true that Jehovah’s Witnesses do not accept or promote baptism of babies or toddlers —they do, however promote infant indoctrination.

The goal of all Christian parents should be to teach their children from infancy with the intention of helping them become baptized disciples of Christ. Granted, an infant would not qualify for baptism. However, the Bible shows that even relatively young children can grasp and appreciate Bible truths.

The Watchtower—Study Edition, March 2018, page 9, paragraph 4

While Jehovah’s Witnesses do not accept “infant” baptism, they do, however accept and promote child baptism. They often use examples such as Josiah (who was named King of Judah aged eight) to encourage very young children to baptism.

MYTH — Only adults have the maturity needed to get baptized.

FACT — Maturity is determined, not primarily by age, but by a person’s love for Jehovah and readiness to obey him. While still young, Joseph, Samuel, and Josiah showed such maturity. Many young ones today are doing the same.

The Bible says: “A child is known by his actions, whether his behavior is pure and right.”—Proverbs 20:11.

Young People Ask, article 109, “Should I Get Baptized?—Part 1: The meaning of baptism”

This is not mere theory. Jehovah’s Witnesses encourage child baptism including pre-teenagers and children as early as six years old, and present such early baptism as examples to the rest of their followers. Consider the following examples:

In the summer of 1946, I was baptized at the international convention in Cleveland, Ohio. Although I was only six years of age, I was determined to fulfill my dedication to Jehovah. 

The Watchtower, March 1 1992, page 27 (bolds added)

In Bonaire, six-year-old Renzo was invited to the Kingdom Hall and enjoyed it very much. A Bible study was started with him, and from then on he refused to go to the Catholic church. He asked his parents why it was that they were not being taught in church about the Paradise, and this aroused their curiosity. They started to study with Jehovah’s Witnesses. Subsequently, Renzo’s father and mother along with one of Renzo’s Bible students were baptized. Renzo, now eight years old, was baptized at a circuit assembly in Bonaire.

2002 Yearbook of Jehovah’s Witnesses, box on page 110 entitled “Out of the Mouth of Babes” (bolds added)

As soon as she learned to read and write, Paola enrolled in the Theocratic Ministry School and became a publisher. Because of her love for Jehovah, she got baptized at the age of seven.

2011 Yearbook of Jehovah’s Witnesses, page 58 (bolds added)

I was baptized when I was 12 years old. I have never regretted my decision. Since then, 24 years have passed, 23 of which I have spent in the full-time service. My love for Jehovah always helped me to face the difficulties of youth. At the age of 12, I did not have the Scriptural knowledge that I have now. But I knew that I loved Jehovah and wanted to serve him forever. I am glad that he has helped me to continue in his service.”

The Watchtower, 15 June 2011, page 5 (bolds added)
Video entitled “Song 041 Please Hear My Prayer”, available on JW.org.
Video entitled “Song 135 Jehovah’s Warm Appeal: “Be Wise, My Son””, available on JW.org.

The videos “Song 041 Please Hear My Prayer” and “Song 135 Jehovah’s Warm Appeal: ‘Be Wise, My Son'”, available on JW.org, depict some scenarios of children’s involvement in the daily worship life of Jehovah’s Witnesses in cartoon form, and includes the depiction of very young children being baptized.

Examples like these do not only show that Jehovah’s Witnesses have a practice of preaching to children sometimes without the presence or consent of their parents, but also proudly accept and promote baptism of children as young as six, seven or eight. Even pre-teens at the age of 12, who publicly claim not to have full Scriptural knowledge, are presented as examples in Jehovah’s Witnesses publications. This might not technically qualify as “infant” baptism when “infant” is defined as a toddler or a baby —but it certainly gets close. Worse yet, however, baptizing young children can put them in danger. How?

What is implied by being a baptized Jehovah’s Witness?

Baptized Jehovah’s Witnesses become fully recognized as members of the “congregation”. Jehovah’s Witnesses use the term “unbaptized publisher” to refer to people who are progressing through one of their Bible studies towards baptism, and who have decided to participate with Jehovah’s Witnesses in their organized ministry or take small parts in their meetings, but have not yet dedicated themselves or have not yet got baptized. “Unbaptized publishers” are not allowed to be appointed for any further spiritual work. Once a person becomes a “baptized publisher”, however, this changes, and it’s worth noting some of these changes because they have an impact in family and daily life —particularly that of a minor.

Headship

Jehovah’s Witnesses apply a principle of “headship”. This means that women are subject to men in their families —particularly, their husbands—, and men are subject to the hierarchy of men in the congregation, which is in turn headed by Christ. Women who get baptized can opt to some privileges in the congregation, such as becoming auxiliary or regular pioneers, but most of the privileges are reserved for men —including praying in public or before a Bible study, becoming ordained congregation servants or elders, and many more.

Jehovah’s Witness teach that head coverings are necessary to reflect their submission to this headship model. When a woman who is baptized is teaching or praying in the presence of her husband or a baptized man, she is expected to wear a head covering as a form of respect to the authority of the man. This, interestingly, includes wearing such covering as a form of respect for her own very young son, who might be baptized.

What, though, if a young son in the family is a dedicated, baptized servant of Jehovah God? Since the son is a member of the Christian congregation, he should receive instruction from its male members. (1 Timothy 2:12) If his father is a believer, the son should be taught by him. However, if the father is absent, then the mother should wear a head covering if she conducts a Bible study with the young baptized son and the other children. Whether she calls on the baptized son to pray at such a study or at mealtime is left to her discretion. She may feel that he is not yet sufficiently capable and may choose to offer prayer herself. If she chooses to pray on such an occasion, she should wear a head covering.

The Watchtower, July 15 2002, pages 26-27 (bolds added)

In other words, the principle of headship in Jehovah’s Witnesses’ life, establishes that a young baptized boy, maybe aged six, seven or eight, has more authority than his own mother. Their teachings establish that it’s other “male members” of the Christian congregation that he should be receiving instruction from. Not his own mother. And if she does, she must cover her head recognizing that authority. The principle of headship is enforced even in cases where the husband of a Jehovah’s Witness woman is not a baptized member himself:

If she prays aloud on behalf of herself and others or conducts a formal Bible study, thus doing the teaching, in the presence of her husband, she should wear a head covering, even if he does not share her faith.

Reasoning From The Scriptures, page 434 (bolds added)

Disfellowshipping, disassociation —and shunning

Practically every religion has some form of process of excommunication or disassociation through which either an organized body from the religious group can strip a member from membership, or through which a member can choose to be removed from membership.

Jehovah’s Witnesses call these processes “disfellowshipping” and “disassociation” and it only applies to baptized members of their Congregations. Both of these processes carry the same weight and there are technicalities between one or the other, but one common thing between both, which differentiates Jehovah’s Witnesses from other religions, is their policy of shunning.

Although they try to avoid or deflect the question when it comes up, Jehovah’s Witnesses shun former members of their religion, in an effort to coerce them to return.

This form of coercion by which Jehovah’s Witnesses are expected to stop association with a former member so that the emotional void makes them return to their organization is commonly known as “love bombing”, a form of emotional and psychological manipulation. This form of social exclusion is required even when the person in question is a minor, both from other Jehovah’s Witnesses and from their own family members, especially if they are not close family members living in the same home.

If a baptized youth is disfellowshipped, the congregation members are expected “to quit mixing in company with” him. (1 Corinthians 5:11; 2 John 10, 11) This may eventually help him to ‘come to his senses’ and return to God’s protective fold. (Luke 15:17)

The Watchtower, 1 October, pages 17-18, paragraph 16 (bolds added)

Bible principles do not support regular association with relatives who do not live in the same home with a disfellowshiped person. Our main purpose should be to keep the worship of Jehovah pure. We should not see how close we can get to relatives who are disfellowshiped from Jehovah’s organization, but we should “quit mixing in company” with them. […]

If the disfellowshiped one is a minor child, the parents cannot disassociate themselves from him. He is still part of the household. God’s laws require that the parental responsibility be carried out. Even Caesar’s laws require that minor children be provided for by the parents. So the parents are still under command from God to correct and discipline the child. This must be done by using Biblical principles. Parents should require that the minor attend the family study and listen, although he would not participate in the discussion with the group. The parents should strongly recommend his reading the Bible and publications explaining the Bible, such as the Watchtower and Awake! magazines and other Bible helps. If the disfellowshiped minor has questions to ask, he can ask one of his parents in private and he will be shown how to find the answers or be given the answer, but that is all. This, together with the minor’s attendance at Christian meetings, will aid in his restoration. (Jas. 5:20) Parents must appreciate the seriousness of their child’s dedication and baptism and realize that dedication to Jehovah puts the child under Jehovah’s corrective arrangements when his laws are violated.

The Watchtower, 15 July 1963, pages 444-445 (sic., bolds added)

Obviously, such a form of coercion to force an ex-member to go back to their religion violates the human right to change one’s religion or belief.

Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.

Human Rights Charter, Article 18 (bolds added)

But in the case of young baptized Jehovah’s Witnesses, who might be children as young as six, seven or eight, for whom their whole support system might be members of the religion, it is also a form of child abuse that Jehovah’s Witnesses not only condone, but expect their members to follow.

Avoidance to report criminal cases

A sad truth everyone has to confront is that whenever there are obscure hierarchies, policies and practices in any organization that escape public scrutiny, it is always easier that corrupted behaviours sneak in and fail to be recognized and addressed properly. This, however, becomes several degrees worse when the organization directly instructs its members to not bring other members to court, or fails to automatically report criminal cases to secular authorities as a ground rule. Jehovah’s Witnesses are such an organization.

A person who wants to become a Jehovah’s Witness will first be introduced with the concept of not reporting crimes to the authorities when they are committed by another Jehovah’s Witness when they start a home Bible study with their new publication Enjoy Life Forever!—An Interactive Bible Course:

In most cases, we should not take our brothers to court because that could reflect badly on Jehovah and on the congregation. (1 Corinthians 6:1-8) However, there are some situations that may need to be settled legally: divorce proceedings, child custody, alimony payments, insurance claims, bankruptcy cases, or probating wills. A Christian who uses the court to settle such matters as peaceably as he can is not violating the Bible’s counsel.

If a serious crime is involved​—such as rape, child abuse, assault, major theft, or murder—​then a Christian who reports it to the secular authorities does not violate the Bible’s counsel.

Enjoy Life Forever!—An Interactive Bible Course, p. 256 (bolds added)

This is, however, part of an endnote in the book, not part of the main study material. Moreover, there is a difference between saying that reporting serious crimes does not violate Bible’s counsel, or encouraging them to do so —one makes it an optional practice, the other makes it a common practice. Jehovah’s Witnesses, sadly, see reporting serious crimes as optional. Why would Jehovah’s Witnesses not be told in clear terms to report immediately cases of rape, child abuse, assault, major theft or murder to the authorities?

Early explanations of the scripture of 1 Corinthians 6:1-8 have shaped Jehovah’s Witnesses’ doctrine around “taking brothers to court” through the decades. In general, at the centre of their teaching to not report crimes to the authorities has always been the concern not to bring reproach on the name of Jehovah (or rather, of the organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses) —repairing the harm done, or protecting other Jehovah’s Witnesses or members of the public from further harm always missing. Consider how this was presented in The Watchtower in 1973:

Would dedicated Christians today go before secular courts if that were to injure the advancement of true worship or misrepresent it in the eyes of outsiders? No. […]

If any member of the Christian congregation, without regard for the effect of his action on the good name of the congregation, ignores the counsel from God’s Word on this matter, such one would not be “free from accusation” as a Christian. He would not be one who has “a fine testimony from people on the outside” of the congregation. (Titus 1:6; 1 Tim. 3:7) He surely would not be an example for others to imitate, so this would affect the privileges that he might have in the congregation.

The Watchtower, 15 November 1973, Questions From Readers, pages 703-704 (bolds added)

Even today, when presented with a judicial matter that involves a serious crime such as Child Sexual Abuse (CSA), elders in Jehovah’s Witnesses congregations are not directed to immediately involve the authorities for criminal investigation. While today they may leave that to the conscience of the victim instead of telling them to keep it to themselves, they also do not encourage reporting the crime. Instead they let decades of indoctrination to first keep “the good name of the congregation” weigh in the decision of a vulnerable individual.

Such an attitude has been at the core of scandalous situations that, unsurprisingly, do not get any publicity in their JW.org site or any of their publications. This is, for example, the case of the Australian Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse and their investigation on Jehovah’s Witnesses’ response to CSA. In 2016, this Commission investigated files that referred to at least 1,800 cases of CSA related to 1,006 alleged perpetrators since 1950.

Evidence before the Royal Commission is that, since at least 2010, it has been the policy of the Jehovah’s Witness organisation not to discourage a person from reporting a complaint of child sexual abuse to the authorities.

However, there is no evidence before the Royal Commission of any scriptural requirement, policy or procedure requiring Jehovah’s Witness elders to report child sexual abuse to the authorities when not otherwise required to do so by mandatory reporting laws.

Mr Spinks told the Royal Commission that it is not the practice of the Jehovah’s Witness organisation to report child sexual abuse to the authorities, and the organisation has never claimed ‘to have instructed the elders to go to the authorities’. […]

Watchtower Australia produced some 5,000 documents comprising, among other things, case files relating to 1,006 alleged perpetrators of child sexual abuse dating back to 1950. Royal Commission staff analysed those files and produced data which was for the most part uncontested by Watchtower Australia. […]

Although the position is not clear in relation to a few files, there is otherwise no evidence before the Royal Commission of the Jehovah’s Witness organisation having reported to police or other secular authority a single one of the 1,006 alleged perpetrators of child sexual abuse recorded in the case files held by Watchtower Australia.

REPORT OF CASE STUDY NO. 29—The response of the Jehovah’s Witnesses and Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of Australia Ltd to allegations of child sexual abuse (bolds added)

This Commission’s conclusions were that Jehovah’s Witnesses are not “an organisation which responds adequately to child sexual abuse. And one of the reasons they listed was:

The organisation’s general practice of not reporting serious instances of child sexual abuse to police or authorities – in particular, where the complainant is a child – demonstrates a serious failure by the organisation to provide for the safety and protection of children in the organisation and in the community.

REPORT OF CASE STUDY NO.29—The response of the Jehovah’s Witnesses and Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of Australia Ltd to allegations of child sexual abuse, page 77 (bolds added)

This disgraceful record refers only to Jehovah’s Witnesses in Australia, which in their 2021 Country and Territory Reports reported just a 70,951 peak of reporting publishers, making it rank as the 32nd country with largest publisher peak. Jehovah’s Witnesses have the same policies that enabled this dramatic situation to happen in countries where they have hundreds of thousands of members. This includes the US (with over 1.2 million Jehovah’s Witnesses), Brazil (with over 900,000), Mexico (with over 800,000) or the other 23 countries and lands which reported a peak of over 100,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Dedication to God or to an organization?

Considering the seriousness of what is implied when a child —and, arguably, even any adult— “decides” to be baptized as a Jehovah’s Witness, and the potential danger that it implies, why do Jehovah’s Witnesses continue to push for children and teenagers to be baptized while still young?

While in their publications they will present baptism as a form to display our dedication to God, for Jehovah’s Witnesses baptism is primarily a dedication to their organization. To exemplify this, when candidates are ready for baptism in one of their assemblies or conventions, they are asked two questions before being immersed in water, to which an audible “yes” is expected as a response:

Have you repented of your sins, dedicated yourself to Jehovah, and accepted his way of salvation through Jesus Christ?

Do you understand that your baptism identifies you as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses in association with Jehovah’s organization?

Organized to Do Jehovah’s Will, pages 206-207 (bolds added)

For this reason, Jehovah’s Witnesses do not recognize any other form of Christian baptism that might have happened in any other Christian religion —which they consider false religion—, the baptism was not done dedicating one’s life to Jehovah’s Witnesses’ organization.

Jesus might have commanded his followers to “make disciples of people of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the holy spirit” (Matthew 28:19, 20). Jehovah’s Witnesseses, however, replace any mention of the “holy spirit” in their baptsimal questions for their “organization”, enforcing organizational doctrine on their baptized members at the cost of human rights.

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