reprint of the Jul/Aug. 1987 Bethel Ministries Newsletter
(formerly entitled, "How and Why Someone Becomes a Jehovah's Witness")
by Jamie Boyden
Taking the mystery out of why one chooses to become a Jehovah's Witness is important. Much can be gained from the fields of social psychology and sociology as to how this occurs. It should be noted then that unique, individual motivating factors predicting and accompanying a person to favorably select the JW position will not herein be considered, rather factors at large and how people respond to the factors will be the author's spotlight. It should also be stated that the focus of this article is on persons not "born into" the Watchtower Society organization.
Would You Like to Study the Bible?
Suffice it to say that most all prospective converts, after first meeting the JWs through a doorstep encounter, begin their indoctrination through a home book study. The weekly book study (which the Witnesses sometimes call a Bible study) is where the well-rehearsed JW and the newcomer go through a Watchtower publication together. Quite predictably, the Witness teacher asks the likely convert questions related to his reading assignments. He can read the questions written at the bottom of his study book and easily respond with the corresponding printed answers. He is continually praised for stating the appropriate Watchtower responses during his hour long book study. How important is this praise?
Social psychologists view praise as an extremely potent social reward, not only predicting actions but also capable of altering an individual's underlying attitudes and beliefs (Insko, 1965). Research has demonstrated that people come to like those who view them positively (Byrne & Rhamey, 1965). During initial visits, it is common to hear reassuring comfort from the Witness teacher that the potential convert is wise and intelligent to be showing interest in the knowledge which his very life depends on. However, as the initiate enjoys the attention and praise of his weekly visitor, he may begin to acquire what social psychologists call attitude-discrepant behavior.
A famous theory in social psychology is Leon Festinger's cognitive dissonance1 theory (Festinger, 1957; Wichlund & Brehm, 1976). It is based on the premise that people can't live with inconsistencies. It works like this: On the one hand, the prospective convert usually has serious questions and doubts in the back of his mind about Jehovah's Witnesses and their teachings. It may be the blood transfusion issue, their view of the governments, their exclusive claims to Christianity, etc. Or, he may imagine the embarrassment of going door to door selling magazines. Yet, he is allowing the Witness teacher into his home and is participating in a socially rewarding book study. Since his behavior is not yet in line with his negative attitudes towards the JWs, he manifests attitude-discrepant behavior.2 He may also face harsh warnings from his family and friends who tell him not to study with the JWs because they are a cult. Yet he has an honest curiosity about what the Witnesses teach and believe. He may go as far as verbally giving answers to typical Witness book study questions but not actually believing what he is saying. These are inconsistencies between his attitudes and result in a very unpleasant feeling (Higgins, Rhodewalt, & Zanna, 1979). If the potential convert does not initially have conflicting attitudes towards studying with the JWs, it is very likely to appear in a short time. Perhaps he will come upon some critical literature exposing the JW teachings, or talk to a former JW or another educated person. Even if someone does not present him with a critical viewpoint, he will often pose questions which will force him into a dissonance-creating situation.
I Wouldn't Do It If I Didn't Believe It!
With regard to inconsistencies between attitudes, it should be noted that no one enjoys this unpleasant state to last long, so when faced with a decision, a choice between two alternatives must be made. After all, one can't possess two diametrically opposed religious views! Interestingly, cognitive dissonance theory predicts that the alternative (once chosen) becomes enhanced (Brehm, 1956; Knox & Inkster, 1968; Younger, Walker, & Arrowood, 1977; Converse & Cooper, 1979). Indeed, accepting one side ("I enjoy studying and what if the Witnesses are right?") without devaluing the other would allow inner turmoil (dissonance) to still prevail.3
To cite a more familiar example, perhaps the reader has had a decisional conflict involving the advantages and disadvantages of a large purchase. And once the decision is made and the purchase is taken home, you evaluate more positive the purchase you chose and lower your perception of the alternative you discarded. Likewise, the prospective convert, in effect, does the same thing. His questions about the JWs are no longer seen as important or serious.
I Suffered For It, It Must Be Right!
Lastly, dissonance theory suggests that we are more likely to positively evaluate our choices that we have come to suffer for (Aronson & Mills, 1959; Gerard & Mathewson, 1966). When the convert has to deal with the negative consequences (profound embarrassment, persecution, friends viewing him as different, shedding worldly ties, etc.) of his decision to become a JW, he may justify himself by reasoning, "I suffered for it, it must be worth it."
In review, the convert is receiving much praise and enjoying his attentive Witness teacher. He is impressed with the knowledge of Scripture his teacher possesses and the sincerity of the Witnesses in general. But simultaneously he must settle the guilt feelings of knowing he should at least investigate the Watchtower organization in light of the negative feelings he already has and the compounded warnings from friends and relatives. We learned that he must deal with the stress of dissonance by making an either/or choice and following that action. We also learned that he may choose relatively quickly (compared to the gravity of the decision) and may stick with the choice because cognitive dissonance theory predicts his decision, once made, is greatly enhanced. But now we will turn to why the prospective convert does not choose to obtain more information to weigh before he decides to believe the Witnesses.
If You Can't Beat Them, Join Them!
When dissonance occurs, the course of action taken is usually the one that offers the least resistance. Indeed, the potential convert can ignore the pleas of his friends and family and isolate himself from all Watchtower opposers, fleeing to his new Witness friends. In reality, many choose to continue studying with the Witnesses because it is the path they have already begun, that they are continually being reinforced to take, and the path with the advantages flashed in front of them each week in their intensive book studies. This is why during the wrestling with dissonance and choosing an alternative, many forfeit the opportunity of investigating counter-cult information. There are a number of tactics the Witnesses use to insure that the newcomer will not search out or listen to the anti-Witness alternative. This leaves the potential convert with the counter-cult alternative as the one easiest to discard, in contrast to the overabundant pro-Witness information and guidance available from the JWs themselves.
Where Are My Friends at a Time Like This?
One method the Witnesses use to prevent the prospective convert from investigating the Watchtower organization is to recommend that one only associates with Witnesses. During the book study the initiate's attitude towards outside ("worldly") ties is frowned upon. Hence, if one doesn't make contact with anyone other than a JW, it is highly unlikely that a counter argument will reach the convert's ears, or that warnings from friends will be a problem. Incidently, wouldn't it also make sense that the one willing to give up friendships and acquaintances probably lacks substantial and rewarding involvement with others in the first place?
Sociologist James A. Beckford revealed evidence of predisposing conditions4 in a study of JWs conducted in Britain (1975). He found the second condition in rank of importance that allows for a positive view of the JWs (before the book study even takes place) was a secular occupation in volving little contact or interaction with the public or co-workers. The initiate would thus be missing important contacts with friends and workers for information and comparison. Another predisposing condition found was social isolation from others outside the family and work place. Truly, this lack of ties facilitates the absence of anti-Witness arguments, ideas, and data during the decisional conflict period. Beckford (p.183) writes: "Lack of enduring ties with social groups outside the family and work place implies that prospective converts have very little social support for their own ideas or for any resistance that they may wish to present to the arguments and blandishments of evangelists [JWs]. Social isolation may also have the direct consequence of heightening the pleasure to be derived from the opportunity of having regular home visits from Publishers [JWs] who appear to be genuinely concerned for one's personal welfare."
They Are Right, It Must Be Satan!
A second method the Witnesses use in the decisional conflict stage which eventually blinds the initiate from an investigation, is that the book study material directly discourages examination. "Apostate" literature is anything written which is critical of the Watchtower Society or their teachings. This is clearly demonstrated in the March 15, 1986 Watchtower magazine. Under the heading, "Have No Dealings With Apostates," it reads:
. . . For example, what will you do if you receive a letter or some literature, open it, and see right away that it is from an apostate? Will curiosity cause you to read it, just to see what he has to say? You may even reason: `It won't affect me; I'm too strong in the truth. And besides, if we have the truth, we have nothing to fear. The truth will stand the test.' In thinking this way, some have fed their minds upon apostate reasoning and have fallen prey to serious questioning and doubt." (p. 12)
As a result of this mentality being instilled in the initiate, he often declines seeking any information other than Watchtower publications (whereas the statement just quoted ought to be a cue to the wary reader who recognizes that avoiding information and contact with outsiders is a common trait of cults--Zimbardo, Ebbesen, Malach, 1977; Lifton, 1963). Hence, the potential JW convert becomes isolated to JW publications exclusively.
Even more incredible is the Watchtower's emphasis on "avoiding independent thinking." Although the prospective convert may not come upon such statements in his initial readings, it will be the thinking patterns his Witness teacher is subtly persuading if not explicitly directing. In the January 15, 1983 Watchtower (p. 27) a whole section of an article is entitled, "Fight Against Independent Thinking." This serious crackdown on free thinking and behavior is enforced today when the Society must deal with JWs who are more than ever questioning and doubting the movement. This ultimate command of loyalty is a necessary last resort to maintain control over the Witnesses' lives.
Their final and often most persuasive teaching is that Satan will persecute the initiate through friends and family who don't want him to find the truth. The Witnesses imply that persecution and doubt is the very sign that you must have found the right religion, so they warn not to succumb to it and fall prey to false teachings. This may be their most effective tool in terms of getting the convert to believe that he shouldn't investigate or question the Watchtower Society.
How Can You Find It If You Don't Look?
A third condition limiting an examination of the Watchtower cult during the decisional conflict stage is the very lack of information available to investigate. There is a lot of literature, books, tapes, and tracts exposing the teachings and history of the JWs, but it is often not as easy to find it at the exact time the initiate needs it. Even the libraries sometime lack any books on JWs. And if the prospective convert seeks clergy help (as is not often the case), he may be disillusioned that even they don't have an answer to every doctrine and issue in life like the Witnesses pretend to have. Hence, when the inner turmoil (dissonance) becomes overbearing, the case against the JWs is often waning at the very time the intense book study catered to his home is persisting. No wonder the path of least resistance is often to continue studying with the Witnesses!
You Made Your Decision, Now You Are Stuck With It!
Much can be gained from the behavioral sciences as to how to most effectively deter one from joining the Watchtower cult. The importance of acting fast in providing objective counter-cult materials during the informational weighing, decisional conflict period cannot be overstated. Personal contact as well as material intervention is most important. As was pointed out, a decision must be made by the initiate to avoid dissonance. Once formed, it quickly becomes elevated and highly resistant to change.
What happens if later (after the initiate has fully become a Witness) he is presented with countercult materials or arguments? Most likely the Witness will be motivated to blindly disregard them, for to honestly consider them would bring back an occurrence of that extremely unpleasant feeling of dissonance--the guilt of not making a fully-informed decision. After his personal investment and suffering and hours of acting like a Witness, it becomes increasingly difficult to reason that he was wrong as the months go on. He may be tempted to reason: "I'm afraid to look, what if I find out I am wrong?" In fact, dissonance theory predicts that when a JW finds a true discrepancy in his belief system, rather than facing the truth, he may blatantly ignore it by suppressing or at most redefining his beliefs. Although he has the choice of abandoning his faith, this would be too much of a strain to contemplate. This can be illustrated with regard to failed Watchtower prophecy.
Bryan Wilson (1978) utilized Leo Festinger's cognitive dissonance theory to examine the failed 1975 prophecy. The JWs expected the end of the world to occur in 1975. Instead of abandonment of belief after the long awaited date passed, reinterpretation was necessary. The point is that despite the obvious failed prophecy, annual growth did actually continue in 1976 in all of the principal countries but six. Whether growth was caused by all new members or the addition of some new members on top of existing JW adherents is yet to be known. But there was renewed growth. The Witnesses could only redefine and rededicate themselves to the cause they gave their lives to. Wilson writes: "Reinterpretation does not demand that mistakes or disappointments should be denied: indeed, error can be frankly admitted and disappointment acknowledged as part of the reaffirmation of faith. The expiation of error, and perhaps fleeting doubt, may indeed demand vigorous rededication to the cause, and, if the sect is at all given to proselytizing, to renewed commitment to field activities." (pp. 183-184) Bryan Wilson is noted among sociologists studying religion. He mentions that similar to the 1975 miscalculation was the 1914 failed end-of-the-world prophecy. Again, reinterpretation was necessary followed by rededication. Very much related to this cognitive dissonance phenomenon is that after a Christian has enabled a JW to see gross flaws in the Watchtower facade, the JW often becomes more adamant about his waning beliefs. It is very common to confront a JW with overwhelming arguments against their organization, only to have the JW come back a week later and say, "I'm glad I talked to you, as it gave me an opportunity to bolster my faith. Now I am more convinced than ever I am right."
What Do You Call It?
So, do potential JW converts go through a brainwashing process? It must be realized that brainwashing does not have to be mysterious, involve coercive mind control tactics, nor require drugs or hypnosis. Whether brainwashing techniques are so radical has been questioned by researchers (Schein, Schneier, & Barker, 196l; Szasz, 1976). Indeed, a model of brainwashing based on a traditional social-psychological study of intentional social influence and sociological conditions (as discussed throughout this paper) has been aptly described (Lifton, 1963; Zimbardo, Ebbesen, & Maslach, 1977). What do you call it?
1. cognitive dissonance: knowing one is not in harmony with his own beliefs; the perception of disharmony or controversy.
2. attitude-discrepant behavior: unusual behavior resulting from a discrepancy or disharmony in one's attitude towards something.
3. called postdecisional dissonance) because of the obvious unsettled benefits (lingering personal doubts).
4. conditions existing beforehand that affect one's decision.
Aronson, E., & Mills, J. The effect of severity of initiation on liking for a group. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 1959, 59, 177-181.
Beckford, J. A. The Trumpet of Prophecy. New York: A Halsted Press Book, 1975.
Brehm, J. W. Post-decision changes in desirability of alternatives. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 1956, 52, 384-389.
Byrne, D., & Rhamey, R. Magnitude of positive and negative reinforcement as a determinant of attraction. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 1965, 2, 884-889.
Converse, J., Jr., & Cooper, J. The importance of decisions and freechoice attitude change: A curvilinear finding. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 1979, 15, 48-61.
Festinger, L. A theory of cognitive dissonance. Evanston, Ill.: Row, Peterson, 1957
Gerard, H. B., & Mathewson, G.C. The effects of severity of initiation on liking for a group: A replication. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 1966, 2, 278-287.
Higgins, E.T., Rhodewalt, F., & Zanna, M. P. Dissonance motivation: Its nature, persistence, and reinstatement. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 1979, 15, 16-34.
Insko, C. Verbal reinforcement of attitude. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 1965, 2, 261-623
Knox, R.E., & Inkster, J.A. Postdecisional dissonance at post time. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 1968, 8, 319-323.
Lifton, R.J. Thought reform and the psychology of totalism: A study of brainwashing in China. New York: Norton, 1963.
Riess, M., & Schlenker, B.R. Attitude change and responsibility avoidance as modes of dilemma resolution in forced-compliance situations. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 1977, 35, 21-30.
Schein, E.H., Schneier, I., & Barker, C. H. Coercive persuasion. New York: Norton, 1961.
Szasz, T. Patty Hearst's conversion: Some call it brainwashing. The New Republic, 1976, 174, 10-12.
Wicklund, R.A., & Brehm, J.W. Perspectives on cognitive dissonance. Hillsdale, N.J.: Erlbaum, 1976.
Wilson, B. When prophecy failed. New Society, 1978, 43, 799, Jan 26, 183-184.
Younger, J.C., Walker, L., & Arrowood, A.J. Postdecisional dissonance at the fair. Personality and Social Psychology, 1979, 37, 284-287.
Zimbardo, P., Ebbesen, E.B., & Maslach, C. Influencing attitudes and changing behavior (2nd ed.). Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley, 1977
Why are Jehovah's Witnesses afraid to examine the record of their organization once they have become convinced it is "God's organization"?
There are many reasons why people become Witnesses, and there is no one personality type or situation in a person's life that drives him to become a JW. Yet, there is a common thread. It is related to a basic human need that must be filled, and that is security. In our fallen state, all of us are pitifully insecure, and live in a hostile, unpredictable world. We look to others for stability and trustworthiness; and if we fail to find that in people, we will seek to find it in things or in power or in some other cause. Once we find a form of security that we think will meet our needs, we are faced with what social psychologists call cognitive dissonance (knowing we are not in harmony with our beliefs). We often instinctively know that a friend, a lover, a car or house, a job, or even a religious organization never seems to give personal security to others, yet when desperate and faced with the chance, we may choose to say, "Why not?" The temptation becomes great, and we must choose a course of action. And as is pointed out in the accompanying article, we embark down a road of close-mindedness towards reconsidering the choice we made. We may find the price of changing midstream is too costly. It will leave us with an even greater sense of insecurity.
This is why JWs react the way they do when the Christian or ex-JW challenges them to check out what the organization has done over the last 107 years. It is not just pride in having all the answers, and the threat of losing face to someone else.1 It is more likely that they are actually afraid to investigate the evidence against the Watchtower, which they had so quickly brushed aside in the beginning.
Charges are often brought against the Watchtower of brainwashing its members. If brainwashing is understood to include the repetition of their doctrines over and over so as to immunize them against any other viewpoint, then this is certainly true. However, there are two techniques the Watchtower uses that are even more effective in establishing a cultic mindset: (1) a highly controlled social atmosphere, and (2)
teaching the Witness to brainwash himself. In actuality, these two methods are usually employed together. It works like this:
(1) The Watchtower isolates the JW from his family and from society by keeping him totally occupied with meetings, study, door-to-door and proselytizing activity, and by warning them not to associate with "worldly" people, which often excludes one's own non-Witness family. As a result, a narrow, pessimistic and apprehensive mentality is produced. No one outside of the organization is to be trusted. One withdraws into the standard JW mindset, wherein he mimics the attitudes of the local elders as well as the Governing Body to a large extent. The JW learns how to "read between the lines" so to speak, when the Watchtower promotes its doctrines. Their doctrines may not actually look so unusual in print, but the JW interprets them differently than the person off the street who just picks up and reads the latest Watchtower. The JW has the key to understand the WT because he embraces the standard JW mindset and attitude.
(2) By the use of leading questions, the Watchtower study conductors can use their publications and even the Bible to direct the JW to certain conclusions, yet allow the Witness himself to give the answer. This technique of presenting certain one-sided facts and then using leading questions to get them to reason on these facts is the same as used in courts of law, where a lawyer may trap the defendant by reviewing certain selected facts (which may or may not be true), then asking the defendant "catch" questions, until the defendant admits he is wrong or his testimony appears inconsistent. While a new person studying with the JWs may suspect this technique, the committed JW responds out of habit, without even questioning the method or the doctrine. Because he is familiar with the attitude or the spirit of the organization, he generally knows the right answer to give, and automatically parrots it. For instance: A JW may read an article about dress and grooming, and how the way we dress influences others. Then the article may give a couple of experiences where someone with a beard was either dishonest or was perceived as such. Finally, the article may conclude with the leading question, "Would it be wise as Witnesses of the happy God Jehovah to display a form of dress or grooming that might cast doubts on our honesty or sincerity?"
The JW thinks to himself, "I don't know anyone in the organization who has a beard except a rebellious brother in another congregation, and so it must be a sign of rebellion to wear a beard. I don't want to be looked upon as `untheocratic'. Beards are obviously untheocratic." What we find is that the JW has brainwashed himself into believing that a Christian shouldn't wear a beard, and can even find Scriptures (provided by the Watchtower) to support his case. All this, while most all faithful men in the Bible had beards!
What happens when a Christian "does battle" with a JW using the Bible?
Several things may happen, depending on the personality type of the Witness. If the JW is the active, aggressive type, he may enjoy debating with the Christian, as it helps to sharpen his answers. If the Christian has an edge on the JW, it may still be seen as an opportunity to go home and brush up on how to refute the "new" points brought up by the Christian. Seldom is this type of Witness touched by the Christian's presentation (at least in a "debate" setting).
If the Witness is more reserved and less likely to aggressively pursue the debate, he will retreat to the elders and Watchtower publications in order to strengthen his security base in the organization (which has just been threatened). Often the Witness will come back later and tell the Christian, "I'm glad that I met you, and took the opportunity to check out what you brought up. Now I am more convinced than ever that I have the truth!" The JW appears to be more brainwashed than ever, much to the consternation of the Christian who thought he was doing so well in the debate! But the Christian is simply not aware of what just happened: (1) the JW's security base was threatened--the possibility that he made a wrong decision in becoming a JW surfaced and it was extremely disturbing (post-decisional dissonance). (2) to resolve the anxiety, the JW blocks out all outside reading material or disturbing thoughts and immediately goes to the elders or the Watchtower publications and reinforces his view of the Scripture or subject (by means of intense and very selective meditation on WT thinking). (3) Once the JW feels settled again, he is confident that that particular point will never bother him again! In the mind of the JW, once he has an answer to a particular difficulty (whether it is a valid answer or not), he no longer has to struggle with it. By outward appearances, the JW is more confident than ever. On the inside, he has taken one more step in selecting what facts he wants to believe and rejecting those facts which contradict what he believes; he has brainwashed himself. The Watchtower doesn't so much brainwash people as it actually teaches them to brainwash themselves! This is much more permanent than our more common concept of brainwashing.
What is more effective than playing the game of "Scripture Checkers"? (informal debates using selected Scriptures)
Sometimes the Christian who employs this technique has a problem with insecurity himself. At some point in the past, a JW may have challenged his faith in his doctrines enough so that he is living in a state of cognitive dissonance. He wants to be sure that he has the truth! Since the Watchtower doctrines challenged his security base, he can only gain peace of mind by learning to refute every Watchtower argument that there is. This type of person will always resort to Scripture checkers or argumentation. So we then have two persons arguing, both of which have placed their securities in the wrong thing!
The Christian seeking to reach the JW needs to understand that the real problem of the JW is misplaced security.2 Rather than walking in a personal relationship with a personal Being, and basking in the real answers to life's problems, his belief system as well as the organization is his security. As long as there are no holes in this doctrinal structure, and he is convinced the Watchtower is "God's organization," he feels secure. A breach of confidence in this structure must be quickly patched up to avoid the torment of doubt.
It is better for the Christian to listen to what the JW is saying, and to quickly and concisely refute the individual points being made, keeping it brief (for additional information, see the May-June Newsletter). This requires study of their belief system, but it pays off by taking them off guard. The next and most important step is to offer them a greater security; a personal relationship with Jesus Christ as is spoken of in John chapter 14 (which it is good to read to them, commenting as you go). In summary, the arms of the one receiving them must be stronger than of the one whom they are letting go!
Can't it also be said of Christians that they need a "crutch" or security blanket to lean on?
This is certainly true of many who go to church and possess the outward show of being a Christian, but it is not true of a born-again Christian who walks by the Spirit of God in his day-to-day affairs. Many people join a church or attend a church because they have a conscience, and their conscience tells them that there is a God, and that He has moral standards, and they therefore feel guilt for their sins. By going to church and associating with Christians, their conscience doesn't bother them as much. Fellowship is a form of security, as is the promise of escaping judgment. While none of these things are wrong in themselves, they may be all that is there. All such a one has are visible, outward forms of security. The atheist is right in accusing this type of Christian of seeking a crutch.
What the atheist cannot see and does not understand is that a Christian is supposed to have a working relationship with an invisible Person; a Person whom the Christian cannot hear or see in the natural realm. A Christian is to learn to stake all on this invisible relationship; even when he can't see two steps in front of him. This form of security is not security at all in the eyes of the world; it is insanity! Indeed, to risk all on such a relationship, it better be real!
For the JW, the organization takes the place of a personal relationship with God. How does a Witness know he is "right" with Jehovah? By his standing in the organization, and how much he is doing for the "kingdom." The real Christian, on the other hand, knows how he is doing by the witness of the Holy Spirit in his heart; a very personal and real manifestation. He can be right with God, even though his world around him (church, job, family, etc.) is falling apart. He is not making such things his base of security, but has faith in the One who is invisible (Heb. 11:27).
In helping the JW out of the Watchtower organization, what is it important not to do?
Do not allow their security in the WT organization to be replaced simply by security in a particular church or denomination, or even a particular circle of friends. These things are all good in themselves, but not as a substitute for what the person really needs to initiate--a working relationship with Christ. Since it is a new step, it may be strange or foreign to them. It is easier just to get comfortable with the same set of misplaced securities one once had in the Watchtower!
Do not load them down with books or advocate a diet of Christian television (but don't discourage such things, either). They should be studying the Bible with a scholarly frame of mind, which will help end their confusion over doctrine and give them a firm foundation in true doctrine. Allow them to see that there are areas of doctrine (beyond the fundamentals) that are points of division in the body of Christ, but that this is characteristic of human nature. Teach them that they will someday learn all the answers, but that they need to pray and meditate on the Word of God and get established in God's wisdom first, and they need to develop a "track record" of relationship with him. This will give them true security. Teach them to love others without expecting it in return; for the Lord will repay them out of his own love (Matt. 5:43-48; 6:4). Teach them to allow the Lord to fill them up when they are empty, and not to always expect that from other people. * * *
1. although this is a significant factor. The JW is continually told that they are the only ones who have the truth; indeed, they are "the truth". They are well-trained in talking to people at the door, and do pride themselves in having all the answers, since they believe that the true Christians must have all the answers.
2. This can be demonstrated by bringing forth photocopies of older WT articles that gave false prophecies or said something that they no longer consider as truth. The hostile reaction of the JW usually tells the story.
By Jamie Boyden
A Jehovah's Witness family comes to your door, and having always been impressed with the courage, commitment, and downright sincerity of these individuals, you refrain from closing your door this time. You sympathetically turn your attention to them. To your surprise, the well dressed family is very articulate and validates their "doorstep sermon" by showing passages from the Bible. The spokesman taking the lead comfortably executes answers to complex questions.
You might recall, as the JW spokesman continues to relate one point to another, how you used to go to church and never felt like you belonged and, moreover, felt confused about the hypocrites, lack of unity, and overwhelming problems facing the church. And you will never forget John Doe, the church appointed elder. Your thoughts focus back to the now assertive presentation the JW gentleman is giving you, but before they do, you catch a glimpse of the adult-like children, well postured and dressed so clean. You are very impressed with the spokesman's Bible knowledge and appreciate the concern of this nice family at your doorstep. Besides, a challenge to study the Bible seems fresh and interesting. After a weekly home "Bible study" (book study) with the Jehovah's Witnesses, you decide to heed to your new Witness friends' advice to try attending one of their local Kingdom Hall services. You attend, and never before in all your life have you ever been greeted with so much warmth, friendliness, and concern. Truly this must be God's organization, you conclude.
Why Do Many Churchgoers Become JWs?
It is a sad fact that many persons (including churchgoers) have heard of the Jehovah's Witnesses but few know what the Witnesses really teach and sincerely believe. The author has often heard positive connotations such as honest, friendly, dependable, well-behaved and orderly surface from community members when the topic of Jehovah's Witnesses is discussed. If your pastor asked your congregation for a show of hands as to how many members believed that the Watchtower Society is a cult, what would occur? Do you think you would see hands very slowly go up as fellow members looked about for informational cues as to the appropriate answer to the pastor's question? Yes, that scenario hits home.
Many unsuspecting persons (many of whom are regular church members) have no tools or information to even think about how to refute a non-stop bombardment of Scriptures and patterned "doorstep sermons." Drawing people away from Christian churches is the basic thought and drive behind a JW's attempt at new converts. Even regular churchgoers who do not feel secure in their beliefs fall prey--not to mention those who are temporarily or permanently inactive. Professor Edmund Gruss, referring to the causes of the rapid JW growth, writes in his book, Apostles of Denial: "The average Christian does not have a firm grasp on what he believes, and if he does, it is likely that he cannot defend his belief scripturally."1
In a major but not well-known sociological study of JWs in Great Britain, James A. Beckford (1975) uprooted the possible predisposing conditions leading someone to favorably accept the Watchtower Society's message. Ironically, "conventional Christian upbringing" ranked number one. Referring to the JWs surveyed, Beckford concluded, "for the most they had earlier expressed their God-centered religious views in regular attendance at Sunday School or church." The rationale, according to Beckford, is that a background of being a regular churchgoer facilitates a common ground--a belief that God does exist and that religion is important. "From the convert's point of view the early stages of contact with Watchtower doctrines involve the reaffirmation of some basic Christian beliefs, the countering of persistent objections and the setting of new beliefs in a systematized framework," writes Beckford. "The amount of really new material to be digested is initially quite small, because Publishers [JW doorstep preachers] consciously adopt the tactic of emphasizing continuity with previous outlooks."2
One could reason that this transition from a churchgoer to a JW would be accomplished even more efficiently if the church member was dissatisfied with his or her church association. It is the author's opinion that the JWs' verbal and written hatred of established Christendom would insure a lurid interest from dissatisfied church members who look for a network of similar minded people to obtain sympathy and maintain their disgruntled outlooks.
Doorstep Encounter: The Most Effective Attack?
A survey of 100 church members throughout ten states in the U.S. has shown that 87% of the church members had come in contact with a JW. Also, 25% let a JW into their house and 23% took their literature.3
Lets face it, it is worth knowing something about JWs; printing more religious material than all the Christian churches combined and with an aggressive door to door ministry, they are statistically bound to stumble within screen door distance of you at least once a year with their literature.
Just as Christian upbringing ranked most important as predisposing someone to listen to the Watchtower propaganda, Beckford concluded that the "doorstep sermon" was the most important critical event responsible for conversion into the Watchtower organization.4 In his study of the Watchtower movement in Britain, Beckford discovered that 46% of the Witness respondents surveyed made first contact with the JWs through a "doorstep sermon." This becomes important in light of the fact that only 3% of the respondents sought out to join the Watchtower organization on their own initiative.5 In his study, Beckford concluded that even the traditional hypothesis for joining a religious group, affiliation for social gratification, was for the most part non-evident among the persons who later became JWs; "rather, their initial concern had been typically to indulge their curiosity, to please a friend or to accept a challenge issued by an evangelist [JW]."6
Inoculation From Becoming A JW
Can one become inoculated from falling victim to the Watchtower movement? In practice, inoculation differs dramatically from most methods of stopping rapid growth of JWs. In applying inoculation theory, the focus would be on church members, community members, friends, relatives, and children who have not yet become JWs. Through a systematic, enveloping form of social influence the JW convert quickly becomes "brainwashed" into thinking he or she really has found the truth. Anyone who has had experience dealing with JWs knows that witnessing to JWs at times can be futile and other times self-defeating. With the view that witnessing to JWs is difficult but certainly not a dead end, a broad avenue opens--witnessing to those who are likely to become JWs. As we have seen, those who have actually heard about God in conventional churches are likely candidates. It is an interesting thought that indeed it does take some special skills and preparation to help a Witness find the real truth, and one might be more efficiently doing just as much good in reducing the JW growth rate by inoculating non-Witnesses.
The fact is, the JWs beliefs directly oppose almost every established Christian doctrine, as if to make a point by completely differing from our traditional Christian heritage. They deny: the Deity of Jesus Christ, the Holy Trinity, Hell, man's eternal soul, Jesus' bodily resurrection and his visible second coming. In 1935, the Watchtower's president J.F. Rutherford even eliminated the heavenly hope from most (currently 99.7%) of the JWs! Today, although there in no biblical evidence, they still stick with this belief. Hence, almost all Witnesses belong to the "great crowd" class with the possibility of eternal life on earth (if their works are deemed worthy). They are deprived of: heaven, being "born again," having Christ as their mediator, and belonging to the Body of Christ. Nor are they allowed to partake of the elements in communion. Also, as most people are aware of, all JWs are instructed not to participate in holidays such as Christmas, birthday celebrations, blood transfusions, government functions and saluting the flag, as well as much more.
Because of the Watchtower's drastically different beliefs from established Christianity, one could conclude that if the churchgoer could just come to know true Bible doctrine, then he or she would become well inoculated from Watchtower heresy. And if the churchgoer knew the mere basics as to why he or she believes the core truths set forth in the infallible Word of God, then one would be strengthened with a "booster shot" to combat any "doorstep sermon. It is the author's opinion that this would go a long, long way in truly leading individuals to the path of righteousness and inoculating them from all Watchtower propaganda and dramatically reducing the growing membership of the Watchtower organization. All too often the JW convert has heard of Christ, has a Bible, and has even attended church; yet the new convert does not fully believe in Christ, has not completely read or even studied the Bible, nor does he or she technically belong to the Body of Christ (according to their own admission!).
"Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil." Hebrews 5:13,14.7
1. Edmund C. Gruss, Apostles of Denial (Pres. and Ref. Publishing Co., 1970), pp. 259, 260.
2. James A. Beckford, The Trumpet of Prophecy: A Sociology Study of Jehovah's Witnesses (New York, A Halsted Press Book, 1975), p. 183.
3. Robert A. Morey, How to Answer a Jehovah's Witness (Minneapolis, Minnesota, Bethany Fellowship, 1980), p.9.
4. Beckford, p.185.
5. Beckford, p.160.
6. Beckford, p.179.
7. Hebrews 5:13, 14 (NIV).