How to talk with the Jehovah’s Witnesses?

There may be no religious organisation that engages in proportionately more publishing than does the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society — proportionate to its membership, that is.

Each month Jehovah's Witnesses distribute millions of books, magazines, and pamphlets, in dozens of languages.  Most of these are intended for non-Witnesses, as aids in conversion, but some are intended for Witnesses themselves.  One of the handbooks used by missionaries in the field is titled Reasoning from the Scriptures.  The first printing of the English edition, which came out in 1985, consisted of two million copies, enough, at the time, so that each Witness in America could receive three copies of the book.  The handbook covers 76 topics, ranging from abortion and ancestor worship through paradise and philosophy to women and the world.  To each topic are devoted a few pages and several questions.

Some of the topics clearly have been selected because they concern beliefs peculiar to Jehovah's Witnesses.  Others have been included because they are held by those of other faiths.  This is especially true of Catholic doctrines.  Some of the peculiarly Catholic doctrines discussed are apostolic succession, baptism as a sin-eradicating sacrament rather than a mere ordinance; confession; holidays and holy days, such as Christmas, Easter, and St. Valentine's Day; the use of images; Marian doctrines; the Mass; and purgatory.  These alone constitute more than a tenth of the book, an indication that the Witnesses see the Catholic Church as a main target.

Reasoning from the Scriptures begins with two how-to chapters, "Introductions for Use in the Field Ministry" and "How You Might Respond to Potential Conversation Stoppers."  The first of these gives suggested opening lines.  "If the introductions you are now using seldom open the way for conversations, try some of these suggestions.  When you do so, you will no doubt want to put them in your own words."

Sample Openings:

Five openings are given under the heading "Bible/God."  The first reads this way: "Hello.  I'm making just a brief call to share an important message with you.  Please note what it says here in the Bible.  (Read Scripture, such as Rev. 21:3, 4.)  What do you think about that?  Does it sound good to you?"

Notice the hook: "an important message."  Everyone likes a bit of gossip, right?  Then come the Bible verses, followed by questions.  The missionaries don't tell their listener what to think — at least not at this point.  Instead, they elicit his views.  Once he gives them, it's awkward for him to back out of the conversation.  They can toss out a few more questions, then make their point.  Another opening line under this section is this one: "We're encouraging folks to read their Bible.  The answers that it gives to important questions often surprise people.  For example: ... (Ps. 104:5; or Dan. 2:44; or some other)."  Again, here the listener is told he'll be let in on a secret.  He reads the passages, is asked his opinion, and then the Witnesses steer the conversation their way.  The leads given under the heading "Employment/Housing" are more down-to-earth.  "We've been talking with your neighbours about what can be done to assure that there will be employment and housing for everyone.  Do you believe that it is reasonable to expect that human governments will accomplish this?  But there is someone who knows how to solve these problems; that is mankind's Creator (Isa. 65:21-23)."

The Good Government Ploy

Not bad, eh? How about this one: "We are sharing with our neighbours a thought about good government.  Most people would like to have the kind of government that is free from corruption, one that provides employment and good housing for everyone.  What kind of government do you think can do all of that? ...  (Ps. 97:1, 2; Isa. 65:21-23)."

Other introductions are grouped under headings such as "Crime/Safety," "Current Events," "Family/Children," "Love/Kindness."  At the end of these introductions are what might be called introduction continuers, lines to use when missionaries are about to have a door slammed in their faces.  When many people in the area say, "I have my own religion," it is recommended the missionaries use this opening: "Good morning.  We are visiting all the families on your block (or, in this area), and we find that most of them have their own religion.  No doubt you do too...  But, regardless of our religion, we are affected by many of the same problems — high cost of living, crime, illness — is that not so? ...  Do you feel that there is any real solution to these things? ... (2 Pet. 3:13; etc.)."

Taking Cues

When many people say, "I'm busy," this opening is used: "Hello.  We're visiting everyone in this neighbourhood with an important message.  No doubt you are a busy person, so I'll be brief."  If the missionaries find themselves in a territory that is often worked, they begin this way: "I'm glad to find you at home.  We're making our weekly visit in the neighbourhood, and we have something more to share with you about the wonderful things that God's Kingdom will do for mankind."  The second chapter of Reasoning from the Scriptures instructs missionaries in how to "respond to potential conversation stoppers."  The reader is told that "not everyone is willing to listen, and we do not try to force them.  But with discernment it is often possible to turn potential conversation stoppers into opportunities for further discussion.  Here are examples of what some experienced Witnesses have used in their efforts to search out deserving ones (Matt. 10: 11)."  Missionaries should not memorise these lines, but should master them and put them in their own words.  The key is sincerity.

If the person who answers the door says, "I'm not interested," follow up with this: "May I ask, Do you mean that you are not interested in the Bible, or is it religion in general that does not interest you?  I ask that because we have met many who at one time were religious but no longer go to church because they see much hypocrisy in the churches (or, they feel that religion is just another money-making business; or, they do not approve of religion's involvement in politics; etc.).  The Bible does not approve of such practices either and it provides the only basis on which we can look to the future with confidence."

Six other responses to the "I'm not interested" line are given.

"Not Interested in Witnesses"

If the person at the door is more specific and says, "I'm not interested in religion," the missionaries should urge him on by asking, "Have you always felt that way? ..How do you feel about the future?"  If the person is more specific still and says, "I'm not interested in the Jehovah's Witnesses," the missionaries give this kind of response: "Many folks tell us that.  Have you ever wondered why people like me volunteer to make these calls even though we know that the majority of house-holders may not welcome us? (Give the gist of Matt. 25:31-33, explaining that a separating of people of all nations is taking place and that their response to the Kingdom message is an important factor in this.  Or state the gist of Ezekiel 9:1-ll, explaining that, on the basis of people's reaction to the Kingdom message, everyone is being 'marked' either for preservation through the great tribulation or for destruction by God.)"  Here you see peeping out one of the Witnesses' peculiar doctrines — they don't believe in hell.  They think the un-saved are annihilated, simply cease to exist.  Only the saved will exist eternally.  If the person at the door says, "I have my own religion," he should be asked, "Would you mind telling me, Does your religion teach that the time will come when people who love what is right will live on earth forever?  That is an appealing thought, isn't it? ...  It is right here in the Bible (Ps. 37:29; Matt. 5:5; Rev. 21:4)."

This is another doctrine peculiar to the Witnesses.  They think the saved will live forever on a regenerated Earth.  But the "hook" they use is not peculiar to them.

Like Fundamentalists

Fundamentalists, who disagree with the Jehovah's Witnesses on many points, use a similar technique.  The Witnesses argue to the truth of their position by asking, "That is an appealing thought, isn't it?"  Many people will conclude, "Yes, it is, and therefore it must be true" — illogical, perhaps, but that's how many people think.

Fundamentalists will ask, "Wouldn't you like an absolute assurance of salvation?"  "Who wouldn't?" is the reply, and, having given that reply, many people will find themselves accepting the fundamentalists' notion that one can have an absolute assurance of salvation (a doctrine that arises from their belief that all one needs to do to be saved is to "accept" Jesus as one's "personal Lord and Saviour").

If the person answering the door says, "I am already well acquainted with your work" (a polite way of saying, "Get lost"), the missionaries should say: "I am very glad to hear that.  Do you have a close relative or friend that is a Witness? ...  May I ask, Do you believe what we teach from the Bible, namely, that we are living in 'the last days,' that soon God is going to destroy the wicked, and that this earth will become a paradise in which people can live forever in perfect health among neighbours who really love one another?"

That's as far as this section goes.  The missionaries are not told what to say when the person answers, "That's a crock."

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