Witnesses

Today people walked our street in pairs, men in suits and women with dresses covered by rain coats. They skirted leaf piles, toting clipboards and pamphlets and mounting steps to ring doorbells. I answered ours while Tim stacked wood out back.

Later our son asked why Jehovah’s Witnesses go door to door.

“It’s what they think they’re supposed to do for God,” I said. “They have some wacky ideas. Their flawed theology comes from a Bible translation I don’t agree with.”

Still later I decided my answer sounded smug. While I do see flaws in the J.W.s’ understanding, I can’t deny the times I’ve discovered gaping holes in my own theology. Undoubtedly, more will show up.

My conflict lies less in thinking they’re wrong about reality and more in knowing how closed-minded the group generally is. People who become part of Watchtower religious culture are encouraged to “take in knowledge” about God, which means they’re expected to enquire about and learn this particular brand of theology, with no deviation. Questions venturing beyond their leaders’ views can lead to disfellowshipping. That means being severed from family, friends and support. I’ve heard stories of people who’ve gone ahead and asked, having decided their irresistible need to dig for the Bible’s true message, wherever their search might lead, was ultimately worthwhile.

When you think about it, the Watchtower organization’s ways aren’t far removed from those of traditional Christendom. Of course, some churches don’t care what you believe, just so you show up Sundays and honor their pledge drives. But in many congregations asking questions bestirs a range of reactions, from semi-smug dismissals to earnest appeals for silence to a firmly planted shoe between shoulder blades in the direction of the front door.

Sure, it can go the other way, when a church member barrages weary leaders with irrational diatribes from a belligerent, unteachable mindset. I wish those folks would take life easy and stay home, out of hard-working ministerial people’s faces.

And, yes, questions can lead to heresy. Yucky, frightening heresy. We don’t want to be wrong.

Yet there was this person who came along once, who got it right. Every bit of it. A voice boomed one time from heaven, “Listen to him.” And there were these guys, a rag-tag bunch who followed that person around and were told by him, “I’ll send you the spirit of truth, and you will remember everything I’ve said.” Miraculous, huh. Certainly not the way I’ve been instructed. But part of my belief, my joy, is knowing those apostle guys gave their wisdom to the ages. Flawed men, they received the Christ’s teachings flawlessly, in a burst of flame atop their heads, in a rushing wind. It got recorded. It’s hard to understand, because time and language obscured it, but it’s still around. When I begin to get it, as they meant the words when they wrote or dictated them, I start seeing real life. It clicks with what I’ve experienced, making all kinds of sense.

Part of getting there, though, involves somebody asking questions. Honest, skeptic-less queries into the nature of the language, the history, the culture. I see it happening around me daily in this amazing, Gutenbergian culture I’ve hitched up with. Here are cubby-holes where people ask questions, whatever comes to mind, and it’s truly okay. And people hold strong, theological opinions with open hands. For me, an irresistible draw.

No door to door ministry on the horizon, though, sorry.

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