Tag Archives: Undercover JW

Preparing Jehovah’s Witnesses to Listen: A New Strategy, Part 2

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In a previous post, I lamented about the recent phenomenon I have noticed with Jehovah’s Witnesses: their reluctance to engage in dialogue with anyone who doesn’t seem like a “humble, teachable one,” (easy mark), and their eagerness to refer people to their website (ostrich-like avoidance). See that previous post here.

While driving home the other day, I thought of another (related) strategy that I’m eager to try. Rather than using clever baiting tactics, or posing as a humble, curious Bible student (not that there’s anything wrong with those strategies), my new approach will be more up-front, genuine, honest, and transparent.

Side note: I have been wrestling lately, at least on the back burner of my mind, about the ethics of my “undercover” strategies, where I pose as a naive Bible student to keep them interested. But I have resolved the issue, at least in my own mind. If Jehovah’s Witnesses can justify their use of “theocratic warfare,” that is, the use of deception with outsiders, then so can I. And actually, I liken my strategy less to deception, and more with that of Nathan the prophet, who told a story to king David, lowering the boom at the end with the revelation: “You are the man.” (See Second Samuel 12:7.)

Back on topic: Here’s my new strategy, represented by the following imaginary dialogue:

Me (approaching JW’s doing cart ministry): Hello! Are you the Jehovah’s Witnesses?

JW: Yes we are!

Me: Oh, I love you guys!

JW: Oh, good. Have you been studying the Bible with someone?

Me: Yes, I have several JW friends, and I love y’all so much. I just want all of you to experience what I have experienced, being adopted by Jehovah as his son, and having Jesus as our mediator, and being in the New Covenant.

JW: Oh yes, of course Jesus is our mediator.

Me: Oh, you don’t know, do you?

JW: Know what?

Me: You don’t know that Watchtower teaches that Jesus is the mediator for only the 144,000.

JW: No, that’s not right.

Me: Oh, yes, I have checked this out with my JW friends, and we have verified it at the JW.org website. In fact, here’s my printout of the article on “Mediator” in the “Insight” book. You know of that book, yes?

JW: Well, yes. (Pauses to look at the article). Well, I don’t know about this. I think I need to do some more research on this.

Me: Oh, yes, please do, and let me know what you find out. Here’s my phone number and email address. You see, this breaks my heart, because I love you all so much, and I want you to experience the joy and excitement that I have been experiencing lately, and the Watchtower is withholding these and many other kingdom privileges from you. There’s the mediator issue, and being adopted as sons, and the new covenant, and being born again, and . . .

JW: Well, we know that being born again is only for a special set of people.

Me: Oh, I know you believe that. In fact, I have a favorite scripture about that. Can I share it with you?

JW: Okay.

Me: Can you look it up in your New World Translation? I want to see if it says the same thing as mine. I usually read from the New American Standard. It’s First John 5:1.

JW: Here it is.

Me: Can you read that for me? Especially the first half.

JW: “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born from God.”

Me: Yes, that’s what my version says too. So, do you believe that Jesus is the Christ, or Messiah?

JW: Yes.

Me: So therefore, you have been born again.

JW: No, it says “has been born from God,” not “born again.”

Me: But the cross-reference in the online version of the New World Translation at jw.org connects this verse with John 3:3, where Jesus says that you must be born again.

JW: Um, I’m going to need to research that some more.

Me: Please do, because it grieves me that the ones I love so much are being denied these kingdom privileges that the Bible says are available to all believers.

And we hopefully go on from there, if Mr. JW doesn’t shut down the conversation. But I do think this will make the dialogue last at least a few minutes more than if they sense I’m trying to be clever with them. This way, they know up front that I have no intention of becoming a JW, and that I’m sharing with them my genuine concerns about the organization. Hopefully they will sense that I’m not an evil, Satanic, deceptive opposer, but rather a concerned, yea even burdened genuine believer in Jehovah. That’s my hope, and I’m ready to give it a try, and will report hopefully in an upcoming blog post. I would love it if others try this, and let us know (in the comments below) how it went.

 

 

 

 

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Your Most Valuable Asset: Your Own Bible Study

In sharing with Jehovah’s Witnesses, your most valuable asset is your own personal Bible study.

Okay, maybe your most valuable asset is the power of God, the presence of the Holy Spirit, yours and others’ prayers, and scripture itself. But as far as printed materials, what you personally prepare is the most valuable, far above any books, tracts, articles, websites, videos, podcasts, etc. Here’s why: Jehovah’s Witnesses are classically conditioned to NOT look at or listen to any materials published by any organization other than the Watchtower. Most of them will actually be afraid of it, and the rest will disregard it with a scoff. It’s satanic material in their mind, to be dismissed without a glance.

You need to prepare your own handwritten document to share with them. Here’s an example of what I have developed over time. In reading the Watchtower materials, I noticed so many blessings, or “kingdom privileges,” that Watchtower says are for only the 144,000, all of which we claim as promises from God, available to all who believe. So I began recording them, noting any scriptures that classified each specific blessing as being available to “you who believe,” or to “all who believe,” or similar language. And I ended up with a messy web of scripture that looked like this:

ScriptureWeb

Oh, the tangled webs we weave.

See how so many of the arrows point back to “believing in Christ”? That should tell you something. But it’s too messy and confusing to show to anyone, JW or not. So I tried to neaten things up a bit. Here’s the result:

ScriptureWheel

Wheel of Blessing (rather than Wheel of Fortune)

That’s a bit neater, and it indicates the centrality of our adoption by Jehovah, and its relation to (again) believing. Good stuff, right? This Bible study thing is work, but oh how blessed I feel! There’s a side benefit in this for you. You get encouraged by God as you study his word! Score!

But I was still not satisfied with my result. I wanted something that would make an impressive statement, something that looks professional to show to my JW friends. So I made a chart in Word, which ended up looking like this:

OurStanding

I know, the pic is fuzzy. It’s my old iPad.

Impressive, yes, but it can be overwhelming. I showed it to my friend Nate (who died not long after, but not from looking at my chart). Nate was pretty smart, so I knew he could handle it. He took it home and studied it, and returned it to me dappled with red ink, most of which said either “for the anointed only,” or “only for that time period.” Right, Nate, that’s my point exactly! Did you notice that the verses all say something about the blessing being for everyone who believes? Smh. At least he studied it, right? Since sharing it with Nate I have learned that most JW’s would have immediately dismissed it without a glance in its direction.

Anyway, it’s much too complex. I needed something that made a statement at a glance, but that would also draw the reader in to deeper exploration. So I simplified my chart to this:

Believing in Christ JPEG

Much better, yes?

You can also view it in PDF format here: Believing in Christ 2

The first row marked “redemption” is the only one that Watchtower considers available to all believers (that is, the “great crowd”). The entire remainder of the chart lists benefits that they consider only available to the 144,000 anointed believers. The verses listed in column 2 all indicate that the promises in column 1 are available to all who believe.

You are free to print out copies of the chart for your own use–consider it public domain. But I don’t recommend using the printed chart with your JW friends. They will likely not look at it. I have had it happen several times since showing it to Nate. What works better is to choose 2 or 3 of the examples and write them down by hand on a sheet of note paper. That will look more like something you personally discovered in your own reading of scripture. Which should be true anyway, as you study these verses in their contexts. Here’s an example:

Sharenote

Pretty simple, huh?

Say something like, “I noticed on JW.org that watchtower teaches that only the 144,000 are born again. But could you take a look at this verse? To me it seems to be saying something different. What’s your take on that?” Then have them read 1 John 5:1 and John 3:3. You can choose any of the blessings I have listed, or any more that you may find in your own study of scripture. Read, study, and be blessed! Then, use what you learn to share with your JW friends.

[BTW, I need to make mention here of my new friend Wordgirl, who is masterful at this handwritten format of materials for use with JW’s. See her examples at her blog, A Twist in Translation, here.]

 

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I Think My Cover is Blown

 

Coverblown

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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Why Rational Arguments Don’t Usually Work with JW’s (a helpful video)

Tags: Jehovah’s Witnesses, Rational, logic, undercoverjw

I’m taking a little bit of a risk posting the following video, because its creator mentions the current presidential administration. That topic can easily become a can of worms. So please, take away from this video its main purpose, to explain why we often hit a wall when talking rationally with JW’s, and please try to overlook any of your political buttons that might get pushed. In other words, please limit your comments to the subject mentioned in the title of this post. The principles that Alex discusses are directly applicable to our efforts to understand and influence JW’s. He explains our challenge clearly, and offers helpful advice that we can use.

Anyway, here’s the video:

Why Facts Don’t Convince People (and what you can do about it)

 

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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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Random Observations From My Most Recent JW Convention Experience

The month of July saw a number of weekends at the Cow Palace (San Francisco) dedicated to the annual Jehovah’s Witness convention. These are 3-day conferences repeated identically, so as to accommodate a number of “circuits” or regions of JW congregations. My friend Mark and I attended this last Saturday only (not all three days). Here are some of my experiences and observations.IMG_1388

  1. The Watchtower Society is investing in some high-tech tools. There are now 2 large screens flanking the stage, rather than one as in the past. Several professionally produced videos were used to illustrate practical applications of the teachings, in contrast to the live dramas of the past. And one longer, rather well-produced video depicted a modern version of Job’s trials. (I was actually impressed with it–there was really not much to criticize.) The video was the newest “release” announced at the end of the day, another high-tech deviation from the usual book format.
  2. Despite these efforts to bring the presentations more in line with the current culture, the convention is still boring at best and annoying at worst. Simplistic and obvious lessons are presented in monotone by talking heads, and the only thing keeping me from nodding off were the occasional eye roll-prompting diatribes against apostates, “opposers,” and “christiandom.” Also, warnings against specific sins that stretch the limits of one’s suspension of disbelief. (e.g. gambling leads to greed, which was Judas’ downfall. You don’t want to become like Judas, do you? Yikes.)
  3. The music used for “worship” is exceedingly bad; dirge-like and with arrangements that just don’t work. Even I, a musical neanderthal, can recognize the awkwardness of the amateurish and clunky progressions of notes. I always think of the scene in Amadeus where Mozart improves on Salieri’s composition, saying “That doesn’t really work, does it? How about this?” (Salieri scowls like a governing body member would.)
  4. The last session was presented by (Surprise!) one of the members of the governing body, David Splane. I must acknowledge that his speaking style was good. Boring, but good. I should call it professional. Very good diction and control of his voice. I think he has had public speaking training that sets him apart from the other, more local speakers. The surprised audience gave him their undivided attention. To them I’m sure he had the very voice of Jehovah. To me, he was just a boring, out of touch guy who has the marketable still of giving a good, but less-than-dynamic presentation. Of course he announced the latest “release,” which was the video mentioned above. My friend Mark seemed disappointed that it wasn’t a book. I imagine other JW’s being relieved that it wasn’t another book that they were expected to add to their already full study schedule.
  5. Despite the numbingly boring content and presentation, I had a very enjoyable day. Not only did I have conversations with several individuals and/or couples, but I spent hours talking with my friend Mark, both in the car and at the restaurant where we stopped to eat on our way home. I must say that if I had attended a JW convention ten years ago, I would have just dismissed it as a colossal waste of time, vowing to never return. What has me so eager to return to the conventions and kingdom hall meetings are several things. First, the Holy Spirit at work in me. I have come to cherish my conversations with JW’s, whether strangers, acquaintances, or friends like Mark. I love those dear JW’s, even the grumpy ones. They’re like sheep without a loving shepherd, but with a bully pushing them around instead. Second, I love seeing God at work around me, making divine appointments happen, directing conversations, giving me words to say (or telling me when to shut up), and protecting our conversations from the bullies. And third, gaining an appreciation for the things we have in Christ that the JW’s are missing out on. A real relationship with God and Jesus. Freedom from fear, guilt, and shame. Holy Spirit guidance and power. And the realization that as flawed as your church’s services may be, they have to be light-years better than any JW meeting. Perhaps attendance at a JW meeting should be mandatory for every Christian believer, just to give them a new appreciation for their own church experiences. I highly encourage it. It’s for your own good.

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What Do You Mean by “Undercover”?

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.

UPDATE 1/11/16:

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.

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