A local Jehova’s Witness has put me in his “finding pool.” Oh, I know he probably wouldn’t call it that. But the truth of the matter is unmistakable. Sporadic morning visits have evolved into regularized bi-monthly drop-bys, and I’m handed a bright new copy of the Watchtower and other assorted literature each time. This Witness is paired with a different “companion” on each visit. Sometimes he’s the “senior companion,” clearly showing his greenie the ropes. Occasionally, he’s the “junior companion”, accompanied by an obviously senior leader, who I imagine gives him pointers after our brief conversation ends and the door closes.
I suspect in this Witness’s mind I am a “golden contact”. I answer his questions semi-thoughtfully, and in a way I know is helpful to the flow of his sales pitch. The truth is, I can’t help but be nice to these guys. They remind me so much of a 19-year-old me. Yes, many of our theological assumptions and conclusions couldn’t be more different. But our door-knocking approaches are oddly similar, both in the leading questions asked, and in the slight awkwardness of bearing and conversation that inevitably characterizes our forced chatter. I find myself wondering, “Do they hate this as much as I did back in the day?” “Do they really think the questions they’re asking me are as religiously pivotal as their script would have me believe?” The whole experience is like a trip down memory lane, yet I must confess I’m kind of glad when it ends.
My previous experiences with the Witnesses are few, but fairly memorable. (I exclude the almost daily sightings of J-Dubs knocking doors on my mission, sometimes on the very streets I was tracting). When I was 10 years old, my mother studied with the Witnesses in our home, and I would often listen on the floor in an adjacent room with my Bible open to the passages they were reading. These sessions lasted for a few weeks, until our visitors had the misfortune of being greeted at the door by my grandmother, who contemptuously ordered them off the property, and insisted if they’d just “pray about the Book of Mormon“, they’d finally feel the Spirit for the first time. As a missionary, I taught an investigator who was simultaneously studying with the Witnesses. Each successive visit was met with more pointed Bible questions, and less satisfaction with the Mormon answers (the Witnesses eventually won that round). I also once lived in an apartment with 5 other elders that just happened to be on the same floor as a group of young Jehova’s Witnesses. Inadvertent meetings on the stairs some mornings — everyone with scriptures and pamphlets in tow — were always a bit awkward. Not long after my mission had ended, a caravan of Witnesses was tracting my mother’s housing development while I was on a jog. I was approached by a young, scholarly-looking fellow who seemed to be leading the group. For the first time in my life, I chose to broach foundational scriptural questions with a Witness, and was pleasantly surprised to hear him admit that certain of his assumptions couldn’t be justified by an appeal to the Bible itself. In more recent years, I’ve had Latino Witnesses knock on my door, giving me the opportunity to floor them with the sight of a pasty white boy speaking fluent Spanish, and to brag (truthfully) that I’d actually read El Hombre en Busca de Dios as a Mormon missionary, cover to cover.
So I’ve had a good number of interactions with the Witnesses over the years, but nothing that lasted more than a couple minutes. But now, for the first time in my life, I’m seriously tempted to invite them in. Or at least to set up an appointment. I know enough about Jehova’s Witness theology — and in particular about their scriptural hermeneutic — to know that their doctrine would have no appeal to me. Yet part of me feels like studying with the Witnesses is one of those life experiences everyone should have at least once, like sky-diving or an Alaska cruise.
Yet I worry. On the one hand, I could play a role with them that would generate lots of repeat visits, which would potentially be fascinating to me, but would also raise a thorny problem: How will it end? Won’t the final “discussion” inevitably be awkward? And the longer I go, the more comfortable we’re likely to become with each other, so the harder it will be to end the relationship when our religious conversations inevitably run their course. On the other hand, I could do what part of me really wants to do, and push back hard against their scriptural assumptions, so as to make them see that their theology only gets off the ground after they make certain Biblical assumptions which are not — indeed, cannot be — anything but extra-Biblical themselves. Yet this would probably sabotage the potential for continued scripture study before it begins. In which case, why should I bother?
Each time my visiting Witness walks away, I also think back on my own mission and wonder: How many of my doorknockees were asking these same questions about me? And how many of them would have indulged a study with the Mormons if they weren’t convinced (rightly) that they would be met with aggressive invites and commitments, or a refusal to actually, you know, converse about religion, rather than be preached to?
Have any BCC readers ever studied with the Jehova’s Witnesses? What was your experience like? And do I wait for them to initiate it, or do I do it myself?