Do you know what “theocratic language” is? You won’t find much about it in the Watchtower publications, but if you spend any time in kingdom halls, you will hear the term (or variations such as “pure language”) from the platform. Jehovah’s Witnesses have a unique jargon, which some call “JW-ese.” The truth is, any social group, whether it be a culture, tribe, family, club, company, or others, ends up developing, either deliberately or unintentionally, its own unique jargon. Jehovah’s Witnesses are no exception. To outsiders the JW’s jargon is strange, quirky, and sometimes even funny. For example, what good reason is there to use the word “fruitage” instead of “fruit”? No one would say “Let’s go to the produce stand; we need to buy some fruitage.” But fruitage it is, both in their New World Translation of the Bible, and in their teaching talks. It’s all I can do to keep from snickering whenever I hear it.
Jehovah’s Witnesses, rather than being embarrassed about their quirky jargon, are proud of it. Labeling it “theocratic language” gives it special status. And that’s one of the purposes of specialized jargon–identifying your group as distinct from, and by implication, superior to others. Some of the terms come from their quirky Bible translation (such as “fruitage”). Other terms come from their historic ministry practice (“circuit overseer” and “publishers”). Then there are terms that are used as indoctrinating (and I would argue mind-controlling) tools, such as the use of “the Truth” for everything Watchtower-related and “christiandom” for all other Christian churches, organizations, groups, and individuals.
Some of the specialized terms that JW’s use include:
theocratic, including theocratic language and theocratic ministry school
faithful and discreet slave
going where the need is greater
great crowd or other sheep
There are many more, as you likely know. I’m tempted to make Bingo cards of them for use during the boring assemblies and conventions.
But there’s a better use for these quirky terms;
we can use their language against them. Oh, no, I didn’t just say that! That was antagonistic. Make that: We can use their language to help reach them. Using their terminology is like using their heart language. Ministry to young adults, teens, gypsies, tribal people, businessmen, or any group, would require that we learn about what’s popular with them, including words they use. When they hear something in their language, it gets through to them more quickly and easily.
Here’s an example. Earlier this week I had an opportunity to meet with a new JW acquaintance. While we were getting acquainted, I mentioned that I grew up in Christiandom. As we talked further, I told him about my concern that there are a number of kingdom privileges, or kingdom benefits, that Watchtower teaches are available for only the 144,000 anointed believers, and not for the great crowd believers. When my new friend tried to change the subject to whether Jesus was crucified on a cross or a torture stake, I said that neither one bothered me, and that I didn’t have a problem with either.
See all the words and phrases in italics in the previous paragraph? Those are part of the JW jargon, their theocratic language. And notice that even the phrases “doesn’t bother me” and “I don’t have a problem with” are included. Lately JW’s are using those phrases A LOT. When you bring up an issue that they can’t explain, they dismiss it with that phrase. For example: “I don’t have a problem with the promise of living forever on earth. It sounds like you have a problem with it, but I don’t.” In other words, “What you’re showing me appears to indicate that what the Watchtower teaches contradicts what the Bible says, but Watchtower teaches it, and everything they teach is truth from the Bible, so I believe it no matter what you say, end of conversation.” But now, if I use the “doesn’t bother me” language, the tables are turned. I have shown them that others can use the same argument as they. I have shown my new JW friend what it is like to have a valid point dismissed so flippantly. Perhaps he will think twice about using that phrasing on me or others in the future. Not that I wanted to scold him or “put him in his place” with theocratic language. In fact, using the phrase “kingdom privileges and benefits” perked up his interest immediately for what I had to share with him, and we had a great conversation as a result. We even have plans to meet again! Use of my new friend’s heart language connected with him personally, and allowed the conversation, and our relationship, to continue.
Do you want your conversations with JW’s to last more than 5 minutes? First, love them and care about them. Second, treat them with respect. And then, use their heart language to reach them with the real truth.