Tag Archives: kingdom hall

Wearing Black to the Kingdom Hall


Here comes the man in black.

This week I wore black to the kingdom hall. I was attempting to make a statement, using a new strategy. Here’s what I shared with three men; I combined the three conversations into a composite one:

JW: Hi, how are you?

Me: I’m somewhat moody today. In fact, I’m grieving. That’s why I’m wearing black.

JW: Grieving about what?

Me: I’m grieving for my JW friends.

JW: Oh, you mean, about all that’s going on, like in Russia and other places?

Me: No, not about that. I’m grieving about other issues, but I’m not allowed to talk about them here. I’ve been in some deep prayer for you. I love you guys! And I’m grieving for you.

JW: Oh, okay. (Avoids eye contact and changes subject.)

Prior to this visit, I have never dressed up for the meetings. I have deliberately dressed casually to communicate (1) that I’m not trying to hide the fact that I’m not a baptized member, and (2) that I am free in Christ to wear what I want to the meetings. I think that most of my JW friends were probably only thinking “It’s about time he dressed up for the meetings.” But they had to notice that I was wearing all black. It stood out in a very monochromatic way.

The first man I shared my spiel with may have been an elder, but I’m not sure. He is at least a respected member in very good standing. When I revealed that I was not allowed to talk about what grieved me, he was visibly uncomfortable as he avoided eye contact and said, “Oh, okay.” Amazingly, though, he saved the conversation with a sudden change of subject, asking me what I did for a living. I went with it, joining him in small talk, keeping the friendship alive.

The other two men seemed less uncomfortable, but still unwilling to pursue the subject any further. I could sense understanding in their eyes, rather than avoidance. Perhaps they genuinely wanted to talk more, but naturally knew that they couldn’t at that time and in that place. One of them even said, “Thank you for honestly telling me how you’re feeling.” I helped both of those men by changing the subject myself. One of them was a dear, sweet older man who chatted with me for a long time about our workplaces and the times we’re living in. We shared quite a few common opinions, but avoided talking about anything very deeply.

I feel like I have gained some insight concerning my current status with the elders. From their body language, expressions, and actions around me during this visit, I’m thinking they consider me as not quite a threat (because I’m behaving well), but rather as a “loose cannon.” I’m not a threat, but I could be a potential threat, and they’re watching to see how it will go with me. Will I eventually conform (hey, he dressed nicely today), or will I give them a reason to escort me into the dreaded back room, or out of the building? I make them nervous, like they’re fearful that I may fire without warning at any moment. Or erupt like a previously dormant, but suddenly active volcano. Or like a bomb they’re trying to disarm.

I have to confess that I find it exciting to be considered a loose cannon. I’ve never been a loose cannon before. I feel powerful and dangerous.

Okay, I need to get off that arrogant horse. I’m not the black knight. I’m just a peasant, among other peasants, trying to show them the well of life that I have found, but they cannot see. I go back to what I said to each of the three men. “I love you guys.” And I mean it. I am grieving for them–it’s not an act. It’s for real.

During the boring talks and the dirge-like singing, I kept catching myself daydreaming. At one point I realized that I needed to do more than that. I began to attempt to pray earnestly for them, that they would be set free from their bondage. My stumbling attempts at prayer were, I know, part of a spiritual battle more vicious than I could sense. But I am sensing it, more and more. I’m grieving and angry and sad for my JW friends. I hope that they can sense that. And more importantly, I hope that they can sense the absence of the Lord’s presence in their meetings, and His presence breaking in, reaching out to them. Here’s one time when I think foul language will be appropriate:

God damn the Watchtower bondage!

Speaking of bondage and freedom, there was one funny side conversation this time with one of the “sisters,” and with an elder listening in. I have been trying to be good, not taking any digs at the Watchtower, but I couldn’t resist one. The sister was holding her nephew, a toddler wearing a shirt with a picture of a bowtie printed on the front (faux formal wear). The sister jokingly asked her nephew, while several of us (including the elder) were listening, “Can we wear a shirt like yours to the kingdom hall?” I replied for the little boy: “Sure, we’re free in Christ to do so.” Awkward silence, until someone abruptly changed the subject. I dared not look in the direction of the elder, but instead played innocent, joining in with the ongoing conversation. I even held the little boy and bounced him for a while! Sometimes I really, really enjoy what I do, even while I’m grieving.



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Door-to-Door Preaching, or Cart Preaching?

Take a look at http://www.jw.org. Right on the opening home page, there are full page-width photos you can scroll through, each depicting Jehovah’s Witnesses sharing their literature with others.

Now, click on “publications,” choose “magazines,” and scroll down to the Watchtowers. Look at the cover pictures. What do you see? More JW’s witnessing to the public, in public, using their literature. About half of the pics show the literature carts that they are now using.

Notice what’s missing in these pics? Other than the Bible, of course. (Okay, I see one pic where the JW is holding the New World Translation. But as tempted as I am to follow that rabbit trail, it’s a topic for another time.) What I’m wanting you to notice is the lack of pictures of JW’s at the front door of the “householder.” Yes, if you peruse the website, you will find some pics of JW’s talking with a householder at their front door, but those pics are far outnumbered by these new depictions of ministry in public areas, with and without the literature carts. Hmmm. What do we make of this?

Although I have not seen it in print, two reasons for the new ministry method that I have heard from rank-and-file JW’s are: (1) The Watchtower’s recognition that door-to-door ministry has limited effectiveness due to more active lifestyles of “householders” (they’re not home as much as in the past), and (2) the modern phenomenon of gated communities and secure residential buildings that prohibit access by solicitors. So that makes sense, and indicates a wise recognition for the need to adapt ministry to changing cultural conditions. (If you have seen these or other reasons given in the literature, please share with us in the comments below.)

But what about the Watchtower’s history of doctrinal dogmatism regarding the door-to-door ministry practice? The Watchtower has a long history of justifying their “house to house” ministry method scripturally, (mis)using such verses as Acts 5:42 and 20:20. The practice has been used as a “holiness criteria” for members, and as an indicator of who is in the true church, and who is part of the false church (aka the whore of Babylon). What do you think? Will we see a doctrinal change? Will there be “new light” on the subject?

My prediction is that there will be no “new light” or new teaching, but rather a gradual and casual abandonment of the “old light.” It has already begun with these pictures on the website and the magazines. There will be fewer and fewer mentions in the literature of the “house to house” ministry, and more and more mentions of “various methods for reaching people with the good news of the kingdom.” The God’s Kingdom Rules book already teaches about methods used in the past: megaphones on cars, use of radio broadcasts and phonograph players, print ads, and multimedia presentations, to name a few. While house-to-house preaching will continue, it won’t be given the exclusive honor that it has enjoyed in the past. It will be interesting to see whether JW members will be able to choose their preferred form of ministry on any given Saturday, or if they will be assigned to carts or doors by the will (or at the whim) of the elders. Does anybody know how it’s decided who gets to use the carts, and who doesn’t, at any given kingdom hall?


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I Think My Cover is Blown



I think my cover is blown.

As you may know, I have been trying to act as an interested Bible student, that is, a possible convert, for as long as I can, so that I can ask my JW friends very pointed questions, without them thinking that I am an “opposer” trying to convert them to my beliefs.

Several recent events are telling me that my cover is blown.

It all started with a donkey. As you may know, I attend the mid-week meeting at my local Kingdom Hall about once a month. Some months ago, the lesson was about Mary and Joseph, and later the baby Jesus, traveling here and there due to political situations and persecution. The Watchtower study made a point of the difficulty of the journey as Mary rode on the donkey, and how great was their faithfulness to Jehovah, blah, blah. After the lesson I was talking with a man and mentioned that their difficulties may have actually been greater than we imagine, because they many not have had the luxury of a donkey to ride, since there’s no mention of a donkey in the scriptural accounts of Mary and Joseph’s travels. Well, an elder overheard me, and you can read about how the donkey dung hit the fan in my previous post, here.

So the donkey incident is Exhibit 1.

Exhibit 2: There has been another more minor incident, where a local elder asked about my motives in attending the Kingdom Hall. I don’t even remember the biblical passage I was asking the speaker about, but the elder moved me away from him and began cross-examining me.

Exhibit 3: My friend Aaron has not returned any of my calls or text messages in months, in spite of numerous attempts on my part to re-connect with him.

Exhibit 4: My friend Mark (my oldest JW friend), who lives in a neighboring town, has mentioned that his elders don’t want me trying to convert people. How do the elders from another town know what’s going on in my town? I suspect the elders from the two towns have conversed together about me.

Just the other day, Mark stopped by my workplace. He still considers me a friend. A little while back I stopped by his house (his invitation) to take a picture of his couch, so that he can try to sell it. So he stopped by my workplace to get the pic from me. I asked him if he knew the dates for the upcoming convention, and he expressed interest in going together, as we have in the past. But he also warned me that his elders do not want me trying to convert anyone. I responded that I was not trying to convert anyone, In fact, I said, I can’t convert anyone. That is up to God and the person, I explained.

“If what you have is the truth, you should not be afraid of challenging questions. I like to talk with atheists and agnostics, because they challenge my faith, and I dig for the answers, and it makes my faith stronger. If what you have is the truth, shouldn’t you and other JW’s welcome challenging questions?”

He agreed. But he often agrees with me, while simultaneously agreeing with contradictory statements from the watchtower. I’m hoping to attend the convention with Mark, or meet with him in some other context soon. How will all this play out? I don’t know.  I’m thinking and praying about my approach with all my JW friends moving forward.

One encouraging note: I stopped by the Kingdom Hall today, July 4, to attend their midweek meeting. I was thinking that they would not be attending any Independence Day activities, so they would be having a meeting, right? Good opportunity for me to visit, right? But I pulled up, and there was no meeting. Only two cars in the parking lot. The door to the hall was open, so I stood outside it for a few minutes, waiting for someone to come out. Out came one of the elders! And dressed very casually–shorts and a t-shirt. What, no suit? I almost didn’t recognize him. He must have been stopping by to take care of some business that did not require the usual formal attire. He was cheerful to me as he explained that there was no meeting due to the congregation attending the convention this week. So that explained why the ghost town. And his friendliness was encouraging! He at least is still welcoming.

This week I will call Mark to find out when his congregation will be attending convention, or whether he would rather meet over dinner or some other time. I’m looking forward to seeing how God works! Pray for all my JW friends (even the grumpy elders) in both towns. Thank you!


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Read Any Good Books Lately?


The last time I attended the meeting at the local kingdom hall (I think it was in March), I was chatting with one of the young men there, a high school student whom I will call George. I really like George. He reminds me of me when I was a highschooler. We’re both brainy, introverted, tall, klutzy; you know where I’m going with this–we’re nerds, ok? Anyway, we both like to read, and he was quite interested to hear me describe the book that I have written and will soon publish, a “dystopian” work of fiction. (If you don’t know what that is, think Hunger Games or any of the recent popular stories set in “ideal” but dysfunctional societies.)

So after hearing my description of my book, George said, “That reminds me of one of my favorite books.” When I asked him what that was, he said The Giver, by Lois Lowry. Being unfamiliar with that book or author, I asked him to describe it for me and tell me why he liked it. He said that it was about independence and thinking for oneself.


Me, speechless.

George’s favorite work of literature has as its main theme a value that is explicitly denounced by the Watchtower Society. The literal phrase “independent thinking” is used as a negative buzzword in the literature and the kingdom hall talks. So when George said that, you could have knocked me over with a feather.

I immediately decided that I needed to read that book. Not many days later I downloaded it from Amazon and read it. I was shocked and delighted that George valued the story of a boy who ends up questioning everything that has ever been taught him by the overbearing organization under which he and his family live. The parallels in the story to someone living as a Jehovah’s Witness are obvious. But the question haunts me: are the parallels obvious to George?

Is George’s valuing of this story an indication of his own questioning of the Watchtower? Or does he merely think it a cool story, making no connection between the life of the main character and his own? I’m drowning in curiosity, and can’t wait to talk with George about it some more.

Whether George is already doubting and questioning the WT, or whether interest in this story can begin to spark that “independent thinking,” the evidence indicates that God is at work in either case. What an amazing opportunity I have before me to talk with a young man about the freedom he can have in Jesus. Please pray for George.


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Ongoing Favor With JW Friends

There have been a couple of incidents that have made me concerned about my relationship with my Jehovah’s Witness friends. First, some humorous but concerning experiences at the local Kingdom Hall, in which I was brought into the boardroom for questioning about my motives for “sharing my opinions” with congregation members. (See my previous post about that.) In addition to that, I received a phone call from my friend Mark, who early in our conversation said that his elders thought that I was “trying to influence” my JW friends. I was concerned whether the jig was up–perhaps my cover was blown, and they were all going to cease interacting with me. My response to mark was simply to ask, “They said that?” I was trying to prompt him to elaborate further, wondering what exactly had been said, and whether Mark had been advised to cut things off with me. I was very pleased that Mark continued talking with me, hardly addressing the situation at all.

I had planned to go to the local Kingdom Hall, as I normally do about once a month, but was apprehensive about what kind of reception I would receive. My Wifey prayed for me, specifically that God would give me favor with the JW’s. With that, I left to head to the Kingdom Hall.

God answered my Wifey’s prayer. Everyone at the KH greeted me enthusiastically, asking how I was, saying that they were glad to see me, and other expressions of friendliness. There was no sign of shunning or defensiveness. In return for their kindness, I refrained from “sharing my opinions” with the members, instead only engaging in friendly conversations about life in general. Okay, I did “share my opinions” a bit, but so subtly that it could hardly have been detected. And the elders were listening (that is, very creatively eavesdropping) on my conversations with people. I was definitely under scrutiny. I encouraged a young man to continue to pursue his singing classes and developing that talent. And I encouraged another young man to continue his efforts at writing (which he currently does on the staff of his high school newspaper). These were very, VERY subtle statements of encouragement of career paths not normally encouraged by the Watchtower. College education is frowned upon, and so any skill requiring further education beyond high school is suspect. Yes, their parents have encouraged their efforts in the writing and singing arts, so they too are pushing the boundaries as well, which was surprising to me. My enthusiastic encouragement included statements about those abilities being given as gifts by Jehovah. This may seem like small potatoes to us, but with JW’s, sometimes our small potatoes are Big Deals to them. I’m sure the message was not lost on the young people and their parents. What the elders thought, I don’t know, but they raised no objection, and remained friendly towards me.

Bonus: My friend Aaron invited me to his upcoming wedding! Sweet. I’m honored that he considered me enough of a friend to invite me and include me in on that part of his personal life. And I can’t wait to attend and have more opportunities to talk with JW’s.


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A Tactical Retreat

Recently I attended the midweek study at the kingdom hall. The last time I attended was awkward, with the elders questioning my motives (see my previous post, Warning: You Might Get Kicked Out of the Kingdom Hall by a Donkey). They confronted me about sharing my opinions with the members, implying that my purpose was to plant doubt in their minds. (Truthfully, that is one of my sub-purposes, but my main purpose is to get people to think critically about the Watchtower claims, and to discover for themselves the richness of all the kingdom privileges available to them in Christ.) So, this time I was determined to be good in their eyes. I interacted in a friendly manner with everyone I met, and kept the conversation to innocuous subjects, while still affirming my joy in Jehovah, and my care and concern for them. I dutifully refrained from bringing up any controversial subjects, such as the denial of kingdom privileges to the Great Crowd believers, God’s real name (Yahweh rather than Jehovah), the fallibility of the governing body, or any other of a host of topics. It took great amounts of restraint to resist doing what I enjoy.

When I talked with my friend Aaron, I brought up my desire to meet with him again, and assured him that if it needed to be with one of the elders, that would be fine. I also asked whether we should, “in light of the awkwardness of the past,” do a Bible study together, in effect starting fresh. He seemed very enthusiastic about that idea.

This was a tactical retreat on my part. I envision the three of us going through What Does the Bible Really Teach, following their agenda rather than mine. That little book will provide plenty of opportunities for me to bring up some of my favorite subjects, asking them tough questions, and getting them to think and consider scriptures that are unfamiliar to them. I’m excited about the opportunity, and will report on the results.


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Warning: You Might Get Kicked Out of the Kingdom Hall by a Donkey

My experience Tuesday night at the Kingdom Hall was strangely serious and hilarious at the same time. I’m still reeling from it. How do I even begin to recount the surreal event? Well, I have to try, so here goes.

Let’s begin with the letter that I sent to “The Branch” (JW headquarters). The answer came in the form of a visit by an elder (let’s call him Carl) and another JW, who failed to answer my question (see my previous post about the letter). So I wrote again, asking for an answer directly from the branch. The answer came again in the form of a visit from Carl, this time with my friend Aaron! But they came during the day, while I was at work, and my wife told them that I was planning on attending the meeting at the kingdom hall that night (Tuesday).

So I arrived at the kingdom hall about 15 minutes before the meeting time, and immediately Carl and Aaron wanted me to meet with them in the boardroom. “Uh oh,” I thought, but obligingly joined them in the boardroom. Carl explained that it was about my letters to the branch, saying that the answers would only continue to come in the form of visits by locals. THEN he dropped the bomb. He said he had noticed me sharing my opinions at the kingdom hall about a number of things, and that I seemed to have very strong opinions about certain things, especially the subject of being adopted as Jehovah’s son. “We don’t want you sharing your personal opinions in the kingdom hall,” he said. I politely defended what I had shared on the grounds that it was only what I found in scripture. We politely debated back and forth a little bit, but were interrupted by the beginning of the meeting.

The meeting included, among other tedious presentations, a “Bible Study” about Mary and Joseph’s travels both before and after the birth of Jesus. Mention was repeatedly made of the donkey that was used for Mary to ride on. Numerous comments were made by those participating in the congregation about “how difficult it must have been to ride on that donkey!” I raised my hand twice, attempting to share a comment. I was not called upon. The “Bible Study” also included mention of many apocryphal details that have been added to the story by Christiandom.

After the meeting, I met several folks, and one man asked me what I had raised my hand about. I told him that the Bible does not mention a donkey in the stories, so they may not have had that luxury, possibly making their travels even more difficult, and that I greatly admired Mary and Joseph’s dedication.

I had no idea how hard that donkey would kick.

Carl had overheard the conversation, on purpose I’m sure. He came over and asked about what I had shared. I explained again. He said that there was indeed a donkey in the account. I politely disagreed, even conceding that I could be wrong, but I hadn’t seen one in the scriptures. Carl was only able to show me mention of the donkey in the “Bible Study” literature. I asked whether that “fact” came from scripture, or was it from an apocryphal source. (Please note that I did all this with a polite, genuinely inquisitive, and not sarcastic demeanor.)

But bam! I was ushered into the boardroom again, this time with Carl, Aaron, and another elder. At first they spent some minutes searching in vain for scriptural mention of a donkey. That was the comical part. Then when they couldn’t find a donkey in the scriptures, Carl showed me (again) mention of the donkey in the “Bible Study” article. He then asked me, “Are you questioning the Faithful Slave?” I wanted to say “Duh, yeah!” But instead I asked, “Well, aren’t there corrections made, that is, adjustments whenever there’s new light?” “The light keeps getting brighter!” was Carl’s cheerful response. My response: “So do you expect there will be more adjustments in the future?” Nods all around. “So some things being taught now are incorrect, right?” Uncomfortable squirming and no real response.

Carl asked what my purpose was in coming to the Kingdom Hall. Was I there to cause doubts in the minds of the members? I countered with my wanting to be like the Bereans, comparing everything I heard with scripture, and that they must understand that it would take a long time and a lot of effort on their part to convince someone like me, who had been steeped in the the traditional doctrines of Christiandom for a long time. “You can understand that, yes?”

I could tell that they were conflicted between mistrust of me, and wanting to give me the benefit of the doubt. I agreed that in the future I would not share my opinions with the members, but would bring my questions to the three who now stood in the boardroom with me. That seemed to calm them down for now.

Many more words were said in our conversation; you’re getting the condensed version. The practical result of it all is that I’m not allowed to tell the members how excited I am to be adopted as Jehovah’s son, at least not in the Kingdom hall. Meeting one-on-one with Aaron is now disallowed. But I will be able to meet with him with an elder present. And I’m okay with that. In fact, I plan on actively pursuing that.

But the whole encounter was just so bizarre! If the governing body says that there was a donkey, then there’s no need to check the scriptural account, it must be in there somewhere, because the GB says that it’s so. I get the impression that if the GB said that Jesus had a beard, the members would automatically assume that the Bible says so. Or if the GB said that Jesus had no beard, they would consider that to be supported by scripture, even though the Bible doesn’t say one way or the other. I have heard them use the phrase “Don’t run ahead of what’s written.” Apparently that doesn’t apply to the GB, who is free to add phantom donkeys to the scriptural account.

Before I left the kingdom hall I jokingly said to my friend Aaron, “I never would have thought that a donkey would get me into so much trouble!” He awkwardly tried to assure me that I wasn’t in trouble. Hmmm. Seemed like it to me. All over an imaginary donkey.


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