Jehovah's Witnesses gather in west Dublin to delve into their hearts

Mon, Jul 16, 2012, 01:00

MORE THAN 9,000 people attended the largest ever Jehovah’s Witnesses convention in Ireland yesterday, the conclusion of a three-day event at Dublin’s CityWest Conference Centre. The last such convention this Christian community had in Ireland was in 1978.

On Saturday 8,410 people attended and on Friday 8,710. An estimated 1,700 were delegates from such countries as the US, UK, Germany, Poland, Portugal, Russia, Romania, France, Spain, Italy and China. Over 500 volunteers helped with organisation. It is estimated that there are 7.5 million Witnesses worldwide.

The Safeguard Your Heart convention highlighted Biblical references to the heart. It encouraged self-scrutiny and reflection “to help make wise decisions, improve family life, strengthen their personal relationship with God, and find true happiness,” according to media representative David Dunlea from Cork, whose parents were also Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Mr Dunlea and his wife are full-time “pioneers” in Galway where they try “to share the good news”. In the main, he says, people are “welcoming” as they go door to door even if, in recent years, “religion has had a bad name”.

He and his wife work long hours and live “frugally” but are providing “a service” to their neighbours, he says. He estimates the number of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Ireland at over 6,000 in about 114 congregations all over the island.

The only sacrament these Christians have is baptism, which means total immersion in water following extensive Bible study and involves informed consent “such as an infant cannot give”. Mr Dunlea was 13 when baptised.

Where marriage is concerned they follow the law of the land.This is accompanied by a religious ceremony at the local Kingdom Hall, their place of worship. They do not believe in same-sex marriage as “the bible is opposed to homosexuality”, he said.

Most controversially Jehovah’s Witnesses believe the Bible prohibits Christians from ingesting blood in any form and that they should not accept blood transfusions or donate or store their own blood for transfusion.

Mr Dunlea says this is based on Chapter 15, verse 29 of the Acts of the Apostles. It teaches “that ye abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication”. (King James version).

It has led to a number of court cases in recent years where medical practitioners have sought the assistance of the judiciary when Jehovah’s Witnesses patients in life-threatening situations refused blood transfusions. To date, the courts have ruled that such transfusions be given.

Mr Dunlea said these rulings on “a core belief” had been “traumatic” for the Witnesses concerned. He accepted such situations were also traumatic for the medical personnel involved.

Jehovah's Witnesses: The background

The Jehovah’s Witnesses grew from a Bible study group formed in 1870 in Pennsylvania. From 1931 they have been known as the Jehovah’s Witnesses, after Isaiah 43:10: “Ye are my witnesses, saith Jehovah, and my servant whom I have chosen.”

They do not believe in the Trinity and place more emphasis on God than Jesus, who they believe died on an upright stake rather than a cross. Their lifestyle reflects conservative Christian values with modesty encouraged and gambling, drunkenness, illegal drugs and tobacco-use forbidden.

A central teaching is that the current era entered the “last days” in 1914 and faces imminent destruction through intervention by God and Jesus, leading to deliverance for those who worship God properly.