Strategies of the Jehovah's Witnesses
There may be no religious organization that engages in more publishing, proportionately to its membership, than the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society (Watch Tower Society or WTS for short)—the publishing arm of the Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Each month Jehovah’s Witnesses (JWs) distribute millions of books, magazines, and pamphlets, in dozens of languages. Many of these are intended for non-Witnesses to try to convert them, but others are intended for Witnesses themselves.
One of the handbooks used by missionaries in the field is entitled Reasoning From the Scriptures, which first came out in 1985. The handbook covers seventy-six topics, ranging from abortion and ancestor worship, to paradise and philosophy, to women and the world. Each topic is devoted a few pages, and several questions are devoted to each topic. The book clearly centers around WTS theology, and this point is evident in part from the fact that some of the specific subjects treated in the book are identified as "Not a Bible teaching" (e.g. Apostolic Succession, Trinity) or "Not a Biblical practice" (e.g. Birthday).
The publication is intended to enable the average Witness going door-to-door to accomplish two basic purposes. First, the Reasoning book provides many Scripture references which seemingly support the WTS’s belief system. Second, the book "arms" the JW with a variety of responses to statements and questions which are likely to surface in nearly any typical encounter at the home of a non-Witness.
Some topics clearly have been selected because they concern beliefs peculiar to Witnesses. Others have been included because they are held by those of other faiths, mostly of mainline Christian denominations. This is especially true of Catholic doctrines. (A side note here: The Witnesses believe that all Christian denominations are demonic in origin, and they maintain Christianity as a whole went apostate—that is, entirely abandoned the true faith—starting all the way back in the latter portion of the first century A.D. From their perspective, this alleged apostasy actually fulfills predictions in the New Testament that a mass falling-away will occur. The main problem with this reasoning is that while the New Testament does speak of an apostasy, it refers to the falling away of large number of believers near the end times, not to the defection of the Church as an institution at any time.)
Catholic doctrines discussed include apostolic succession; baptism as a sacrament bestowing grace (as opposed to a merely symbolic ordinance); confession; holidays and holy days, such as Christmas, Easter, and St. Valentine’s Day; the use of images; Marian doctrines; the Mass; and purgatory. These alone constitute more than a tenth of the book and—coupled with the fact that the book attempts in a number of cases to specifically refute Catholic doctrine—give an indication that the Witnesses see the Catholic Church as a main target.
Reasoning From the Scriptures begins with two how-to chapters, "Introductions for Use in the Field Ministry" and "How You Might Respond to Potential Conversation Stoppers." The first of these gives suggested opening lines. "If the introductions you are now using seldom open the way for conversations, try some of these suggestions. When you do so, you will no doubt want to put them in your own words."
Five openings are given under the heading "Bible/ God." The first reads this way: "Hello. I’m making just a brief call to share an important message with you. Please note what it says here in the Bible. (Read Scripture, such as Revelation 21:3-4.) What do you think about that? Does it sound good to you?"
Notice the hook: "an important message." It works for the advertising industry; why not in this context? Then come the Bible verses, followed by questions. The missionaries don’t tell their listener what to think—at least not at this point. Instead, they elicit his views. Once he gives them, it’s awkward for him to back out of the conversation. They can toss out a few more questions, then make their point.
Notice also in this example and in many of the ones which follow, JWs typically ask prospective converts for their own opinion or feeling on a theological matter. The advantage this approach has for JWs is that virtually everyone has some kind of opinion on the subject matter presented, so this approach practically guarantees that JWs can successfully engage a person in a dialogue. Once the dialogue has been established, the JW is then on his way to potentially making a convert. Fortunately for the JW, the average person fails to realize that theological or religious truth does not depend on one’s mere opinion or feeling.
Another opening line under this section is this one: "We’re encouraging folks to read their Bible. The answers that it gives to important questions often surprise people. For example: . . . (Ps. 104:5; or Dan. 2:44; or some other)." Again, here the listener is told he’ll be let in on a secret. He reads the passages, is asked his opinion, and then the Witnesses steer the conversation their way.
The leads given under the heading "Employment/ Housing" are more down-to-earth: "We’ve been talking with your neighbors about what can be done to assure that there will be employment and housing for everyone. Do you believe that it is reasonable to expect that human governments will accomplish this? . . . But there is someone who knows how to solve these problems; that is mankind’s Creator (Is. 65:21-23)."
This sounds rather compelling, doesn’t it? Another approach is: "We are sharing with our neighbors a thought about good government. Most people would like to have the kind of government that is free from corruption, one that provides employment and good housing for everyone. What kind of government do you think can do all of that? . . . (Ps. 97:1-2; Is. 65:21-23)."
These last two examples show another typical approach for Witnesses: they often target universal needs and concerns. Who, for instance, is not worried about the future? Or about raising their family? Or about providing for their child? Or living in a world free from pollution, poverty, and crime? After all, no sane person would deny being concerned about these issues. So the "opening" for Witnesses often begins by focusing on these universal concerns, then continues by establishing a certain level of rapport, and finally turns to conversation which is more specifically religious or theological in nature.
Other introductions are grouped under headings such as "Crime/Safety," "Current Events," "Family/Children," "Love/Kindness." At the end of these introductions are what might be called introduction continuers, lines to use when missionaries are about to have a door slammed in their faces.
When many people in the area say, "I have my own religion," it is recommended the missionaries use this opening: "Good morning. We are visiting all the families on your block (or, in this area), and we find that most of them have their own religion. No doubt you do too. . . . But, regardless of our religion, we are affected by many of the same problems—high cost of living, crime, illness—is that not so? . . . Do you feel that there is any real solution to these things? . . . (2 Pet. 3:13; etc.)."
When many people say, "I’m busy," this opening is used: "Hello. We’re visiting everyone in this neighborhood with an important message. No doubt you are a busy person, so I’ll be brief." If the missionaries find themselves in a territory that is often worked by other JWs, they begin this way: "I’m glad to find you at home. We’re making our weekly visit in the neighborhood, and we have something more to share with you about the wonderful things that God’s Kingdom will do for mankind."
The second chapter of the Reasoning book instructs missionaries in how to "respond to potential conversation stoppers." The reader is told that "not everyone is willing to listen, and we do not try to force them. But with discernment it is often possible to turn potential conversation stoppers into opportunities for further discussion. Here are examples of what some experienced Witnesses have used in their efforts to search out deserving ones (Matt. 10:11)."
Missionaries are told not to memorize these lines, but to master them and put them in their own words. The key is sincerity. If the person who answers the door says, "I’m not interested," the JW is to follow up with this: "May I ask, Do you mean that you are not interested in the Bible, or is it religion in general that does not interest you? I ask that because we have met many who at one time were religious but no longer go to church because they see much hypocrisy in the churches (or, they feel that religion is just another money-making business; or, they do not approve of religion’s involvement in politics; etc.). The Bible does not approve of such practices either and it provides the only basis on which we can look to the future with confidence." Six other responses to the "I’m not interested" line are given.
Keep in mind that the JW has been well-trained and is well-versed in the "pre-packaged" responses he has been taught. This fact adds to the appearance of the JW’s credibility and even his bibical "knowledge." The reality, however, is that a given Witness has merely become adept at repeating select Bible verses and responses which he uses time and time again.
"Not Interested in Witnesses"
If the person is more specific still and says, "I’m not interested in the Jehovah’s Witnesses," the missionaries give this kind of response: "Many folks tell us that. Have you ever wondered why people like me volunteer to make these calls even though we know that the majority of householders may not welcome us? (Give the gist of Matt. 25:31-33, explaining that a separating of people of all nations is taking place and that their response to the Kingdom message is an important factor in this. Or state the gist of Ezekiel 9:1-11, explaining that, on the basis of people’s reaction to the Kingdom message, everyone is being ‘marked’ either for preservation through the great tribulation or for destruction by God.)"
Here you see peeping out one of the Witnesses’ peculiar doctrines—they don’t believe in hell. They think the unsaved are annihilated and simply cease to exist. Only the saved will live eternally. If the person at the door says, "I have my own religion," he should be asked, "Would you mind telling me, Does your religion teach that the time will come when people who love what is right will live on earth forever? ... That is an appealing thought, isn’t it? ... It is right here in the Bible (Ps. 37:29; Matt. 5:5; Rev. 21:4)."
Notice again the approach: the Witness ultimately gets to a theological matter ("It is right here in the Bible. . . . ") by means of an attraction to the emotions or one’s opinions ("That is an appealing thought, isn’t it?") and not to revealed religious truth.
Also, this belief that the majority of believers will reside on a paradise Earth is another doctrine peculiar to the Witnesses. They think the saved will live forever on a regenerated Earth sometime in the future, after the wicked have been destroyed by Jehovah God at the Battle of Armageddon. But the "hook" they use is not peculiar to them.
Fundamentalists, though their theology is vastly better than that of the JWs, use a similar technique. On one hand, JWs argue to the truth of their position by asking, "That is an appealing thought, isn’t it?" Many people will conclude, "Yes, it is, and therefore it must be true"—illogical, perhaps, but that’s how many people think.
On the other hand, Fundamentalists will ask, "Wouldn’t you like an absolute assurance of salvation?" "Who wouldn’t?" is the reply, and, having given that reply, many people will find themselves accepting the Fundamentalists’ notion that one can have an absolute assurance of salvation (a doctrine that arises from their belief that all one needs to do to be saved is to "accept" Jesus as one’s "personal Lord and Savior").
If the person answering the door says, "I am already well acquainted with your work" (a polite way of saying, "Get lost"), the missionaries should say: "I am very glad to hear that. Do you have a close relative or friend that is a Witness? . . . May I ask, Do you believe what we teach from the Bible, namely, that we are living in ‘the last days,’ that soon God is going to destroy the wicked, and that this earth will become a paradise in which people can live forever in perfect health among neighbors who really love one another?" Notice that once again the Witness has managed to turn around the conversation with this response and thus at least "plant seeds" in the mind of the person at the door.
The Reasoning book next provides sample responses to Buddhists, Hindus, Jews, and Muslims, and then ends this section.
The above examples show how JWs typically work when they come knocking at your door. It is evident from the Reasoning book that they are quite prepared for virtually every kind of response they may face when going door-to-door. This preparation makes them relatively effective at what they do. But while their "gospel" is false and their presentation is carefully "pre-packaged," Catholics should at least take note of the JWs’ willingness to promote what they believe. This is perhaps one lesson we can learn from them.
NIHIL OBSTAT: I have concluded that the materials
presented in this work are free of doctrinal or moral errors.
Bernadeane Carr, STL, Censor Librorum, August 10, 2004
IMPRIMATUR: In accord with 1983 CIC 827
permission to publish this work is hereby granted.
+Robert H. Brom, Bishop of San Diego, August 10, 2004