Lesson 10 in the Jehovah’s Witness “Bible study” Enjoy Life Forever is “How Can the Meetings of Jehovah’s Witnesses Benefit You?” As “Craig” and I began our weekly meeting together, I noticed that it was just the two of us; none of his elders had joined us this time. I very much expected to see an elder’s face, calling my bluff and telling me that I need to start coming to their meetings.
How about that lesson title, though? Can you see where they’re heading with it? Ugh, the wording is so manipulative, so passive-aggressive, it’s annoying. You can tell that after this many lessons with the new recruit, the JW’s expect commitment from them. They may as well just come out and say, “You better get your @$$ to the meetings, now!”
So, I wondered whether Craig would put the pressure on.
We started going through the material in a friendly-enough way. Under point 2, “What will you learn in our meetings?” Nehemiah 8:8 is quoted. I expressed my surprise to Craig at the way the Watchtower translated the verse. While all other translations infer that the Levites explained the meaning of scripture to the people, the New World Translation renders the Hebrew text as “putting meaning into it.” I explained to Craig the difference between exegesis and eisegesis, and told him that this translation sounded like the latter rather than the former. All other translations give the sense of drawing meaning out of the text, not imposing one’s preconceived ideas into it. Craig answered by talking about his visit to the JW headquarters (“Bethel”), and the writing department. He talked about the vast effort required to produce a Bible translation. He didn’t really address the issue I had brought up, so I asked, “Were there any Hebrew scholars there? Did you meet any?” He avoided that question as well, suggesting that he thought the phrase meant that the Levites gave the text meaning by reading it in a dynamic way, putting feeling into it.
In Craig’s defense, he doesn’t deliberately lie; I get the impression he just tries to provide the best answer he can, no matter how remotely it does or doesn’t relate to the question. I think he makes up stuff to avoid sounding ignorant, and to defend the organization as well as he can. It’s very much like when you hear politicians try to answer a question they don’t have a real answer for. The motto for both could be “If you don’t know the answer, make something up.” I’ve seen salespeople do it, too. (I’m in sales myself, so I can recognize when they’re “blowing smoke” in an instant.)
When we got to the cute diagram of the kingdom hall, I asked about point C, which says, “During some parts of the program, the audience is invited to comment.” I told Craig that I have raised my hand in meetings several times, and have never been called on. “Do they only call upon baptized members?” I asked. He insisted that visitors would be called on as a normal practice. I insisted that it had not been my experience. I even told him the story (related here) of the trouble I got into when I questioned whether there was a donkey in the accounts of Joseph and Mary’s journeys. Craig winced when I told him that the elders took me into the back room. He offered a sort of apology, saying something like, “I don’t know what those guys’ issue was.” He assured me that if I visited his kingdom hall, I would be called on. Yeah, right. Whatever.
We went through the rest of the study, and I agreed with just about everything that was said. The thing is, though, I kept applying the principles of scripture about “meeting together” to the congregation I’m now attending, which is NOT a kingdom hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Craig asked me several questions about our practices, so he knew I was talking about my “christiandom” church.
Finally, at the very end of our time together, Craig asked me what I expected to gain from doing this Bible study with him. Uh oh, there it is. He’s fishing for whether I am “rightly disposed.” How should I answer? I couldn’t help feeling trapped. I can’t tell him I’m all-in, ready to begin faithfully attending their meetings. But if I admit that I’m not interested in becoming a JW, will he shut down our study and ghost me?
I thank God for the deus ex machina experiences I have had in life. [That fancy phrase means “an unexpected power or event saving a seemingly hopeless situation, especially as a contrived plot device in a play or novel.” (From Oxford Languages.)] Once again the Lord gave me words to say. (Sometimes He shuts me up, too.) What I said was something like this: “I’m hoping to learn more about what my Jehovah’s Witness friends believe, so I can better understand where they’re coming from. I have mentioned to you that I have a number of questions that I haven’t found answers to yet, including questions about the New Covenant, the Two-class system of believers, Jesus as Mediator, and lots of questions about the 1914 thing.” Craig assured me that the answers to my questions would be provided in upcoming lessons of the “Bible study.”
When Craig said that, I thought “Oh, good.” It implies that he expects to continue the study with me. He’s not cutting me off, and apparently not expecting me to be “all in” yet. What a relief.
At this point, some readers might be thinking, “What’s the big deal? So what if he ends the study? Why do you care?” And to an extent, that’s right. I’m not invested in the JW system. There’s no fear or anxiety about my being rejected by them. But the fact is, I care about these JW friends of mine. They have become dear to me. I grieved when I was forbidden to attend the kingdom hall closest to my home. (Read about that experience here.) My goal is to keep my friendship with my JW friends alive for as long as I can. My window of influence with them is limited, and I want to extend that window of opportunity, making it last longer, to the extent that I am able. I plan on meeting with Craig for as long as he is willing, and as long as God protects our relationship. Please join me in prayer that Craig will wake up before he decides to cut me off.