I thought I should clarify what I mean by being “undercover.”
I don’t mean that I’m pretending to be a Jehovah’s Witness, infiltrating a congregation to spy on them. Every Jehovah’s Witness I talk with knows that I’m not one of them. If I wanted to pose as one of them, I would need to cultivate a certain look. First, I would need to get rid of my mustache. None of their men have them. Then, I would need to wear an ill-fitting suit and tie. Since most JW’s are not people of wealth, custom-tailored clothing is out of their budget. This is due I believe to the fact that they discourage (almost forbid) college education, which places them mainly in blue-collar careers. Finally, I would need to carry a briefcase, sachel, or large book bag, which most of their men use to carry around the large amounts of literature that they need for their meetings and outreach activities. (However, those who can afford tablets are beginning to use them instead, downloading the literature and using jw.org on wifi.) I have taken none of these steps to try to look like a seasoned JW. While I wear nice khaki’s and shirt to their meetings and conventions, I do not wear a suit or tie. As a result, they are able to immediately, at a glance, identify me as a non-JW.
So how am I being “undercover”? Not be trying to appear as a JW, but by trying to appear to be an interested Bible student. Which is actually easy to pull of, because it’s true. I am highly interested in studying the Bible. It’s part of my life as a believer in Christ. But what they’re assuming (and I don’t try to discourage this) is that as a student of the Bible, I’m also a ripe candidate for becoming one of them. Which is entirely what I’m NOT interested in. I’m interested in influencing them, not the other way around. And if they knew that, they would shut down my operation. How would they do that? Two ways: By ceasing conversations with me, and (if they’re in a position of authority) by forbidding others from conversing with me.
So how do I maintain my undercover status? How do I encourage them to continue thinking that I’m a potential convert rather than what they would call “an opposer to the truth”?
The first strategy is reliance on Jehovah Himself. Over and over again I see God’s protection of my conversations and relationships with people. Even elders and circuit overseers, who are supposed to be the discerning ones protecting their flock, seem to be blinded to my actual identity and agenda. I call this protection “the Holy Spirit Bubble.” No amount of cleverness or strategy on my part can do what God Himself has been doing.
But I also believe God wants us to be “wise as serpents and gentle as doves.” So I also have intentional strategies. I ask questions more than arguing or preaching. I clarify what the Watchtower actually teaches versus what individual JW’s think or believe (for example, the teaching that Jesus is the mediator for ONLY the 144,000 rather than for all believers as some JW’s wish were the case). And I act like a student seeking understanding rather than an expert trying to “set them straight.” (For example, “Can you explain this verse at John 1:12 that seems to say that all believers are adopted as Jehavah’s sons?”) Attending sporadically rather than consistently is also helpful. That way I resemble a seeker wrestling with their “truth” rather than “that guy” who’s always coming around arguing, and they’re more likely to have forgotten what we talked about the previous time. Finally, when presented with the awkward situations where JW’s call for commitment to their “truth,” I reply with honest, but non-committal responses. (For example, when asked “You believe x is true, don’t you?” My reply is, “I fully understand the Watchtower teaching that says. . . x.”) Using these tactics, and totally relying on the work of God’s Holy Spirit, I have been able to maintain my “undercover” status now for about eight years.
Strike my statement above about mustaches. I saw several at the assembly I recently attended. No other facial hair, though. There seem to be fewer ill-fitting suits lately, too, although there were some definite contenders. I don’t know how to explain it other than the general upswing in the local economy lately. Bulky book bags are diminishing, too, due in large part to the use of tablets, phones, and other devices.