I attended the annual “Lord’s Evening Meal” of Jehovah’s Witnesses this year (21014) and met a man afterwards who offered to answer some of my questions. He observed that I was a “thinker” and insisted that he loves to answer hard questions. This will hopefully be the beginning of months of fruitful conversations. I did the same thing last year with a Jehovah’s Witness Elder. He dropped me after 11 months so now my schedule is freed up a bit to meet with this new Jehovah’s Witness. Although he is also an elder, I will call this new series, “A Conversation With A Jehovah’s Witness Pioneer.” A Pioneer is a Witness who puts in roughly 70 hours of “field service” per month. They keep a time card and everything. Yeah.
We met at a local restaurant. My new friend and another Witness were already seated. We met for a little over an hour and spent the vast majority of our time getting to know each other. I like to meet at a neutral place for a number of reasons. I don’t want the coming over to my house unannounced as that could be a bad thing. We often have ministry volunteers at work in our office so I wouldn’t want to have to explain who these people are and why they are at my home.
I also don’t like meeting at their Kingdom Halls because you never know who is going to walk in. Because I have been ministering to Jehovah’s Witnesses in San Antonio for more than two decades, I am known by a fair amount of Witnesses. If not by name, then by face. I have also met some Witnesses in their homes, but prefer not to do that too. Sometimes if a man feels uncomfortable in his own home, his pride and “home turf” mentality can come out at inopportune times. I’d rather not have to deal with that so meeting in a restaurant is a good alternative.
Getting to know these guys was a real pleasure. I wish I could tell you everything I know them, but I have to be careful with certain identifying marks. Both of them are very unusual in their own ways, which if you know me personally, is really something that draws me to them. I ain’t exactly normal so when I meet other interesting and in some cases, unique personalities, we tend to hit it off really well. Such is the case with both of these men.
JW1 is the pioneer I met at the Kingdom Hall. He was raised Catholic, rejected religion for awhile and then converted to the Watchtower after praying that God would show him “the truth.” Two Jehovah’s Witnesses showed up at his door a short time later and the rest is history.
JW2 is a young guy who strikes me as sort of a loose cannon. His hair was a bit disheveled, he has a baby face and I don’t think he likes rules very much. He made some comments that gave me the impression that if he is the one in control, then rules are great, but if he has to follow the rules of other people, then that’s another story.
When I sat at the table, the waitress came over immediately. I asked her for water and then asked the guys if they were going to eat. JW1 replied;
JW1: That’s up to you. I’m a little hungry myself.
KW: Why is it up to me if you’re hungry?
JW2: That’s a very good question.
JW1: Well… because I have to take into account the others not just myself.
I think I caught him off guard with that question. He looked a bit embarrassed and almost as if he was trying to come up with something to say that sounded “spiritual.” I decided to take advantage of the situation with a little humor.
KW: Well, forgive me because I was going to eat whether you eat or not.
Both guys laughed and we all began looking over the menu. We talked about what looked good and then once we ordered our meals, JW1 asked me;
JW1: Tell us about you. What do you for work?
KW: I’m a missionary.
JW1: Are you really?
He looked very surprised and leaned back into his seat a bit. He leaned forward again and asked;
JW1: Wow, that’s cool. Which denomination?
KW: It is a nondenominational Bible Church.
JW1: You do that full time?
KW: Yes, full time. I teach people about Jesus.
JW1: Wow, that’s awesome! Good for you. How long have you been doing that?
KW: Full time since 1999.
JW1: That’s awesome, that’s awesome. We refer to that as a pioneer.
Both men told me about how each other them work as little as possible so that they can spend more time in the field service and other “Kingdom activities.”
JW1: So, we try to stay busy. There is plenty to do in the work of the Lord. That’s nice that you do that too and that you’ve been doing it for some time. That’s really neat. That’s really commendable.
Okay this is a little much. He was overly complimentary and I was starting to feel uncomfortable for him. I was thinking about the future time when he has to tell me that only their religion is approved by God and that all other religions are false. I’m going to remind him about what he said about me and my work.
I decided to take advantage of his compliments and start “stuffing aces.” This is a strategy I use when meeting with either Jehovah’s Witnesses or Mormons. I keep certain facts in mind and also set up things for the future. If I think I have an opportunity to meet with someone on a long term basis, one of the first things I do is to stuff aces. You can read more about stuffing aces here.
KW: In my work I rub shoulders with a lot of people from a lot of different denominations. We agree on some things and disagree on other things, but the way I look at it is that I am not going to let that get in the way of my friendship with these people. What they believe is between them and God. We may have some good spirit conversations sometimes, but that is no reason to not have anything to do with them just because they don’t believe the same way I believe.
JW1 was nodding his head and agreeing fully. JW2 looked a little uncomfortable. JW1 asked more about my religious history so I told him about being raised in a very legalistic Church. I don’t want to get into much of my personal history here, but explained how my family went from attending Church faithfully three times a week to my becoming a borderline atheist by the time I was in my late teens. I got involved in the New Age movement and then became a Christian at a Billy Graham Crusade shortly before my 21st birthday. You can hear more about my personal history here.
I told them about going to Bible College, then leaving after three years because I was tired of being with Christians for most of my time. I made sure to mention that in all of my classes, I questioned everything. Always have, always will.
JW1: As you should!
KW: Alright! Thank you! If we have a problem there, tell me now.
JW1: That is a fundamental element of genuine Christianity. The Bible says we are to “make sure.”
KW: My Bible College professors loved and hated me at the same time. They loved me because I was serious about my faith. A lot of these kids who grew up in Christian homes and took their faith for granted and they weren’t serious.
JW1: We see this all the time.
KW: That drove me nuts. I was sick of Christians so I left Bible College.
I told them this because I know there are a lot of Jehovah’s Witnesses who do the same thing. They take what the Watchtower says for granted and don’t question anything. By telling them that I question everything early on in our discussions, I hope to be able to lead by example. If they see me asking good questions with an honest, meek attitude, perhaps they will begin to do so as well.
I continued telling them about my personal history after moving to San Antonio in 1992 and explained that a serious back injury led me to being in fulltime ministry in 1999. JW1 said;
JW1: Good for you for taking advantage of that circumstance.
I laughed and replied;
KW: I didn’t have much of a choice.
In a weird sort of way, I felt like the new girl on campus in that all the guys wanted to meet me and were on their best behavior. He was complimenting me on things that are not usually items of complement. It was a bit much.
JW1 then began giving me his personal history which started as a very active Catholic and moved to only going to Church on Easter and Christmas.
KW: A womb and tomber.
JW1: A what?
KW: Someone who goes to Church only when Jesus is in the womb or the tomb.
He thought that was funny and laughed hard. This wasn’t being complimentary by laughing at corny jokes, this was real laughter.
After recovering from his giggle-fest he told me more about his history. One interesting not was that he said he left Catholicism after looking at its “historical record.” He said that it was in total opposition to the message of Jesus Christ. I hope to be able to use that if we begin to look at the Watchtower’s historical record.
He continued with his story. It is very colorful. So much so, that I can’t give too many details here for fear of inadvertently identifying him. Suffice it to say that he has studied a number of different religions and became a Witness after praying to find the truth. He says he rejected the Witnesses at first because what was written in one of their books didn’t line up with what he already believed. He studied anyway and became convinced that the Bible teaches what the Watchtower says.
JW2 had a very different background. He grew up in the religion and made it his own as a young teen. He said that he wanted to really study it for himself and did a lot of Bible reading to verify what he had been taught. When he said, “I studied it to the point where I thought to myself, ‘where else can I go, but here?’” I replied;
KW: Where else?
I asked that because the Watchtower misuses John 6:68 and applies it to the themselves. The Watchtower asks Witnesses, if they leave the organization, where else can they go? In Scripture, Jesus asks the disciples if they were going to leave Him like the crowds did. Peter responds, “Whom shall we go to?” I am not sure if JW2 understood what I was getting at, but he quickly answered;
JW2: Yeah, “Who else” do we go to “Where else?”
In the minds of Witnesses, the “Who” of Scripture is embodied in the “Where” of the organization. JW2 continued with his story and according to what he said, he has pretty much lived a faithful Witness life. He had some trouble in high school because he kept aloof from his peers because he didn’t want to get caught up doing the same kinds of things that most teens do. He admitted to handling it immaturely and a little bit arrogantly, but he is satisfied with where he is now and how he has arrived there “intact.”
At a natural break in the conversation JW1 mentioned our previous conversation when we met at the Kingdom Hall after the Memorial.
JW1: One of the things I told you when we first met was that we like people who ask questions.
KW: I remember that.
He pulled a copy of the “Teach” book (What Does The Bible Really Teach?) out of his bag. Jehovah’s Witnesses use it to indoctrinate interested ones in Watchtower doctrine.
JW1: This is a tool we use to help people understand the Bible. If you look at chapter one, what’s the first sentence there?
KW: “Have you ever noticed the way children ask questions?”
I laughed as I read it. The way JW1 smoothly transitioned our personal conversation to the book was so much different than the elder in my previous conversations. Even as we moved to paragraph two, he incorporated it naturally into our conversation. It wasn’t the awkward, wooden reading of the text I was so use to with my previous Witness. I was impressed how he knew the material well enough to make a flawless transition in our conversation. It felt much more relaxed.
As he read through paragraph two, he emphasized these two sentences, “But many people seem to stop asking questions, especially the most important ones. At least, they stop searching for the answers.” He briefly talked about how important it is to keep asking questions. I completely agreed.
Paragraph three mentions that some people don’t ask questions for fear of shame or embarrassment or that other people think religious questions are better left to religious leaders. The last sentence then asks, “What about you?” He read it, but instead of just reading it from the book, he looked me directly in the eye and asked me the question.
JW1: What about you?
KW: Oh, no. I don’t have any problems asking questions.
I gave him some personal examples of when I have asked questions in a crowd where others are afraid to speak up. I told him that I don’t have the problem of wondering what people think of me. If I want to know an answer, I’ll ask a question and I don’t care what others think of me for asking. It is funny how many people want to hear the answer after I ask the question, but they were afraid to ask it themselves.
JW1: We were just talking about this before you got here. People need to be humble enough to seek correction.
I took the opportunity for a half-joke.
KW: With me it isn’t humility, I just don’t care what you think.
I say “half-joke” because it is true, but I meant it as a joke. Both guys laughed. I continued to joke around about asking questions and made mention of asking “clarifying questions.” This is important because too many Christians think it is always best to ask “challenging questions.” While they do have their place, my philosophy is that they come much later in the discussion. It is possible to ask clarifying questions in a way which challenges them without them feeling challenged, but if your attitude is to refute before you understand, you may find your conversation quickly turning into a confrontational argument. JW1 added to the discussion.
JW1: It is rare that what you hear fully answers a question in context and things like that. We have to ask questions in order to put that piece of information where it needs to go in relation to everything else.
KW: Right. And sometimes there are disagreements. I had a friend who I had to keep reminding in the context of our religious discussions, that when I brought up certain things, I wasn’t giving him licsence to attack my faith. Why would he want to do that? I don’t mind him attacking, but he’s got to understand it first. He often didn’t understand what I believed so what he thought he was attacking wasn’t even what I really believed.
JW1: Right! Why have an adversarial view?
KW: Exactly. I don’t have any problem with disagreement. We can agree to disagree all we want, but if someone is going to try to prove their point over mine, which is perfectly fine, they can’t do it until they first understand what I believe. We can’t even agree with each other unless we first understand each other.
Obviously, I was speaking of the conversations with my previous Jehovah’s Witness elder, but he had no way of knowing that. I also took the opportunity to tell him that when people ask me if I know about certain things, I always ask them to tell me what they are talking about instead of just answering. I’ll usually just say, “Tell me.”
The reason why I do this is because one time my wife asked me if I knew about some plans that our extended family had made for a get-together and I said that I did. What I didn’t know was that there was more information that I had not yet heard. When I found out about it, I asked my wife why she didn’t tell me and of course she answered, “You told me that you knew about it.” I learned from that instance that by telling her that I knew about it, I didn’t give her the opportunity to tell me what I did not know.
This is important for Witnesses to know up front because if they find out later on that I know much more about their religion than I have told them, they may feel deceived. By telling this story, I am taking that potential accusation away from them. I do this so that I don’t miss out on potential information that I do not know. There is nothing deceptive about that. After I explained this philosophy, JW1 said;
JW1: That is an excellent way to approach it.
He said that like he had learned a new trick.
KW: I’m glad we agree.
JW1: Yes, some people think asking questions displays a lack of faith and discourage people from asking questions.
KW: Do you know what I would say of someone told me I couldn’t ask questions?
Both guys laughed again.
JW1: Good question!
He explained how the paragraphs are numbered and that there are corresponding questions to each paragraph on the bottom of the page. He doesn’t know this yet, but I prefer to ask my own questions and am not satisfied to have them provided for me. One statement from paragraph four jumped out at me. It had been so long since I read it, that I had forgotten about it. “It is good to ask such questions, and it is important that you do not give up until you find satisfying, reliable answers.” Yep. I’ll be using that one.
JW1: Should we ask questions? The Bible says, “Yes!”
KW: We’re going to get along just fine.
JW1: I think so. You seem like an intriguing person.
KW: No, I’m just weird.
I was genuinely impressed with how smooth he was. I hope he is an open to questions as he kept saying. He said that he is looking forward to our next meeting and so am I. Please pray for my new Jehovah’s Witness friends.