When I was young, my brother and I and our friends would take turns creating a “spook house” for each other out of our bedroom. We would set up strings on the door, and trip wires on the floor, to cause a stack of blocks to topple, or a string of popping-caps to go off. For a while it was exciting and fun, until it became boring once we realized that what was happening was harmless noise. Of course we couldn’t have sharp swords or heavy weights aimed at each other. Our booby traps were just noise and not much more.
Recently my wife and I had Nate over for lunch. Nate is a former neighbor of ours. After we both moved away, he has since become a Jehovah’s Witness. Recently he reached out to us, and we invited him over. (Can I get a “Wow” for that divine appointment? Thank you.) As my wifey and I prepared to meet with Nate, she asked for coaching as to what topics to avoid, and which to focus on. This was very wise of her, since she has heard from me that certain subjects can trigger arguments, endless debates, games of “scripture ping-pong”, and rabbit trails. I call these topics Booby Traps. Avoiding them is wise.
But sometimes they just come up in conversation, and it cannot be helped. And sure enough, while we were talking with Nate, it happened. Wifey was sharing her testimony and how salvation by undeserved kindness, through faith, apart from works, was so vital to her. And in the process, somehow three booby traps were sprung all at once. We’re not sure how it happened, but Nate suddenly launched into three diatribes about the Christmas and Easter holidays, crucifixion on a torture stake rather than a cross, and the use of the name Jehovah, one right after another. (Surprisingly, he missed the expected “faith without works is dead” speech.)
I could tell that my Wifey’s heart had sunk, wondering how the conversation had taken such a wrong turn. I couldn’t tell her until later, but the reality was that even though it looked like we had lost control, God was still in control. The same thing has happened to me several times before. I have found that the best strategy is to let the JW run through their diatribe until they’re done, and then simply continue on with your own agenda. That is what I did with Nate. When he was done talking, I held up my tablet, open to Ephesians 2:8-9 in the New World Translation app, and said to my Wifey, “I think this is the verse you were talking about, yes? Why don’t you read that for us?”
Her eyes got back their twinkle, and she took the tablet and read the verses, picking up right where she had left off, telling about how she learned that we have to trust in what Jesus did for us for our salvation, and continuing to trust in God to work in us to bring about change. It was as if Nate’s diatribe had not taken place at all, or at least that it was seen as the parenthetical side-topic that it truly was.
We had tripped a booby trap (or several), and had done what I did when I was a kid–recognized the trap for what it was–mostly noise–and had chosen not to react to it. There are a number of topics that I consider to be booby traps that I avoid. I know how to argue against them, and I will if I sense that the JW is ready for the discussion. But until they’re ready, I will mostly ignore them. The booby traps include:
The cross vs. torture stake
Celebration of holidays
Using Jehovah for God’s name
The necessity of door-to-door ministry
The deity of Jesus
Heaven or earth as the believers’ hope
And others that I’m not thinking of right now.
Yes, these topics are important, and some are vital to our faith (e.g. the deity of Jesus). However, unless the JW is ready to seriously dialogue on these topics, attempting to discuss them will bear no fruit. Reacting to these noisy booby traps will only be giving them weight that they don’t deserve.
If you do need a transition from the booby trap back to your topic, you can simply use “OK, so, getting back to __________, . . .”. But I have found that transitions are not even necessary. Especially when what God wants you to discuss is much more important than their booby trap.