When Henry discovered that his wife was already deeply
involved with the Jehovah’s Witnesses and was in fact about to be baptized as a
full-fledged member, he began doing research to accumulate evidence against the
Watchtower Society and its teachings. After a month of intense effort he had
gathered together six books, twelve cassette tapes, two dozen tracts and a
hundred pages of notes. He was now ready to present the evidence to his wife.
Knowing that she was about to return home from the Tuesday night Congregation
Book Study meeting, he assembled his materials and waited for her in the front
hallway, half-way up the stairs. When he heard the sound of her key in the
lock, he picked up all his materials, and as she entered the hall and turned to
face him, he swung his arms in the air and flung everything he had at her. All
at once she was engulfed in a hailstorm of books and tapes, followed by a
flurry of notepapers and tracts.
“See! The Watchtower is wrong! wrong! wrong!” Henry
shouted at her, as his wife beat a hasty retreat to the car.
She returned to the Kingdom Hall just in time, before
the elders had locked it up for the night, and asked them to find her temporary
lodging so she could take refuge from her husband’s “vicious persecution.”
This parable of Henry and his wife is a fictitious
story, but it is not far off from describing what actually happens in many
cases. Though not literally dumping books and tapes on a Witness’s head,
overzealous friends or relatives will often bombard a JW with facts, figures,
quotes, and Bible verses in rapid-fire succession. And the results are usually
as disastrous as in Henry’s case.
The would-be rescuer has no trouble receiving all that
information, because each new point is a welcome addition to the arsenal of
facts he is collecting to support his contention. The Witness, on the other
hand, sees each point as a strange and frightening new thought, a scary
challenge to cherished beliefs. Someone unaccustomed to “independent thinking”
finds it difficult to entertain even one unfamiliar notion, never mind a
surging flood of foreign ideas. And this flash flood of ideas threatens to wash
away the Witness’s faith and undermine the structure of his universe.
Cult members aside, the ordinary person can absorb only
so much new information at one time. Especially is this true when the data
appears not to fit in with, or even to contradict, other data already stored in
the brain. The mind needs time to analyze the new information, look at it from
all angles, and decide which of the contrary notions ought to be stored for
future use and which ought to be discarded as useless rubbish. This process can
not be rushed, especially when the push comes from someone else who is trying
to force-feed new concepts.
A gardener will appreciate that even though a dry plot
of land may be dying of thirst, a sudden heavy downpour does more harm than
good: instead of penetrating the soil, the pouring rain just runs off, washing
away topsoil and perhaps even newly planted seed. What is needed to relieve the
drought is gentle rain—even just asprinkle
at first—repeated often and over a long period of time.
Naturally, anyone with a close friend or relative
trapped in a cult wants to get that person out as soon as possible. So the
temptation is strong to act quickly and forcefully, pouring out as much
evidence as can be obtained, all at once, and with great gusto. Indeed that may
be the best course to take when a loved one is just beginning to get
involved with a cult; it may be just what is needed to scare them off from
further involvement. But it is generally not the advisable course when
the cultist is already fully involved and has been for some time. Such an
individual is likely to be scared off from you and to run back to the
cult for the comfort of familiar surroundings.
The point is that getting someone out of a controlling
sect is not a quick job, like pulling a tooth. The process of extraction can be
expected to take some time. Techniques must be used that will allow you to work
gradually over a period of time.
In the case of Jehovah’s Witnesses even more is required
than simply to “go slow.” It is also necessary to “play dumb.” This is because
the Watchtower Society has forewarned its followers that attempts will be made
to dissuade them from their beliefs, and the organization has instructed them
to avoid anyone who appears bent on accomplishing that end. As already
mentioned, early-on in their “free home Bible study” Jehovah’s Witnesses tell
their students that Satan the devil is likely to use friends or relatives in an
attempt to get them to “stop examining the Scriptures” (You Can Live Forever
in Paradise on Earth, pp. 22–23). So, if you tell the new “student” that
you think he ought to stop studying with the Witnesses, you (1) make the JW’s
look like true prophets, because you fulfilled their prediction that you would
act that way; and (2) you identify yourself as someone under the influence of
Satan the devil and opposed to God. Watchtower leaders have intentionally
planted these thoughts in the minds of new “students” in order to head off any
attempt by friends or relatives to stop the study.
Now if persons who are only in the second chapter of
their first book are already being conditioned to view opposition to the
Watchtower as originating with the devil, just think of how those must feel who
have been exposed to years of indoctrination from the study of dozens of books
and hundreds of magazines, plus five hours of meetings each week! They can
almost see Satan standing behind you, the opposer, manipulating you and
speaking through you.
Every so often we hear on the evening news that a
firebug has set fire to a building, destroying property and endangering lives.
Usually, however, most of the intended victims managed to escape because they
heeded the sound of fire alarms or the shouts of their neighbors. But suppose
for a moment that a more calculating pyromaniac were to dress himself in a
business suit and calmly knock at each door in a hotel or apartment building,
warning the residents to “Please, remain inside your unit, because a sniper is
on the loose. The sniper’s method is to sound a fire alarm and then shoot at
people as they flee into the hallways or onto the balconies. Regardless of what
you hear, don’t open your door, or the sniper will get you.” Then the firebug
proceeds to set the building on fire and leave. The alarm sounds, but people
remain in their units with the doors shut. An off-duty fireman sees smoke and
enters the building before any engines arrive. He starts pounding on doors
calling, “Fire! Fire! Evacuate the building!” but the people inside remain silent
or else shout, “Go away!” An off-duty policeman joins him and kicks down the
door of a unit where he saw children peeking out the window. But the father,
determined to save his family from the “sniper,” fires a rifle at the open
door. In self-defense, the policeman returns the fire. Now others in the
building who had begun to think of leaving change their mind. The warning was
correct; there really is a sniper—they heard the shots.
The frustration faced by these would-be rescuers
illustrates the situation of anyone trying to rescue a friend or relative from
the Watchtower: the harder you try to help, the more the Witness resists. The
more forcefully you attempt to effect a rescue, the more convinced the JW
becomes that Satan has sent you.
So, there is no alternative other than to conceal
the fact that your aim is to get the individual out of the organization. To do
otherwise would almost certainly doom your effort to failure.
When dealing with someone who has only recently started
to study with the Jehovah’s Witnesses, but who has already been warned that the
devil will use friends and relatives against him, you might try an approach
I’m glad to see that you are really sincere about wanting
to know God and to do his will. I feel the same way myself. Of course, it’s a
serious matter to commit oneself to a particular religious organization, and I
would want to be absolutely certain before taking such a serious step. So I
have begun investigating the Jehovah’s Witnesses, too, looking at both
sides of the story. I mean that there is much to be said in favor of the group,
but there is also much in their history that makes me see the need for caution.
They paint a rosy picture of themselves, but I’m afraid they may be telling
only part of the story. And when they instruct people not to read anything by
persons who left the group, it’s enough to make you wonder if they may have
something to hide. In fact, I found some interesting information in this
[book/or tape]. Here—perhaps you would like to [read/or listen to] it. I’m sure
you, too, want to know all the facts before you get so deeply involved that
they can tell you not to listen to anything else.
That approach may open the door to reach someone newly
studying with the Witnesses. It will not work with those who have already
become “dedicated and baptized” or who have been undergoing indoctrination for
a long period of time. They have been fed a steady diet of warnings such as
Beware of those who try to put forward their own contrary
opinions (The Watchtower, 3/15/86, p. 17).
Do you refuse to listen to bitter criticism of Jehovah’s
organization? You should refuse (The Watchtower, 5/15/84, p. 17).
Avoid Independent Thinking
… How is such independent thinking manifested? A common
way is by questioning the counsel that is provided by God’s visible
organization. (The Watchtower, 1/15/83, p. 22).
Fight Against Independent Thinking
… And just as in the first century there was only one true
Christian organization so today Jehovah is using only one organization.
(Ephesians 4:4, 5; Matthew 24:45–47). Yet there are some who point out that the
organization has had to make adjustments before, and so they argue: “This shows
that we have to make up our own mind on what to believe.” This is independent
thinking. Why is it so dangerous? Such thinking is an evidence of pride (The
Watchtower, 1/15/83, p. 27).
Although a Jehovah’s Witness who believes that these
instructions are from God will go up to the door of a person of another
religion to preach to him and offer him Watchtower books and magazines, the
Witness will not listen to anyone preach another religion and will not accept
anyone else’s literature. So you can not appeal to him to hear “the other side
of the story.” He does not want to hear the other side of the story, because he
sincerely believes that it is wrong for him to listen to or even to think about
anything contrary to what the Society teaches. (Even if the particular JW is
one who does not really believe this, he is intimidated by the organization’s
system of disciplinary judicial committees and fears that he might be cut off
from family and friends were he to be caught and punished for deviating from
the prescribed course.)
How, then, can you share any new thoughts with someone
who is so hemmed in? The most effective way is to take advantage of the JW’s
training to teach you. If he thinks he is teaching you, a Witness will
discuss subjects that would have sent him fleeing if he thought that you
were trying to teach him. The key to helping the individual then becomes
a matter of asking the right questions.
For example, if you forcefully point out to a Jehovah’s
Witness that the Watchtower Society’s founder, Charles Taze Russell, believed
the Great Pyramid of Egypt was inspired by God, just like the Bible, and that
some of Russell’s false prophecies were based on his calculations of
measurements of chambers within the pyramid, the Witness will view you as an
opposer and will refuse to examine the documentary evidence that you offer him.
But if you are the Witness’s “student,” and you happen to come across this
material and have questions about it, the Witness will feel obligated to
help you. And in the course of helping you he may have to look at
and read the same material that he would have refused to look at if you had
confronted him with it as a challenge to his faith.
Questions can thus be raised about the Watchtower
Society’s many false prophecies over the years, back-and-forth doctrinal
changes, prohibitions on vaccinations and organ transplants that were later
abandoned and other peculiar teachings not found in the Bible—beliefs that
would naturally raise questions in your mind, and that should in turn cause the
Jehovah’s Witness himself to question whether he is really in “God’s
organization.” If these subjects were brought up confrontationally as a
challenge to his faith, the JW would become defensive and back away from
examining them. But if the issues are raised unemotionally as honest questions
that require answers, the Witness may find himself face-to-face with
overwhelming and convincing evidence that he can not ignore.
Besides asking about these embarrassing skeletons in the
Watchtower’s closet, scriptural points can also be raised in the form of
questions. In fact, you can even approach the JW with a list of verses that you
would like some “help” with. Or, if that is not appropriate, you could present
them as Scriptures that you would like to hear his comments on. The important
point is to avoid any appearance of confronting the Witness, challenging him,
pushing him, or otherwise trying to impose on him your understanding of the
So instead of pointing at John 20:28 and saying, “See!
The apostle Thomas called Jesus ‘My Lord and my God!’ That proves that
Jesus is God,” it would be more effective to ask the Witness to look up the
verse and explain it to you. If he misses the point, use a few tactful
questions to redirect his thinking. For example, he may try to minimize the
import of Thomas’s words by saying, “That was merely an exclamation of surprise
at seeing Jesus alive again—just like you might say, ‘Oh, my God!’ when you are
startled. Thomas didn’t mean anything by it.” In that case, you could ask what
Jesus meant when he responded, “Have you believed because you have seen me?
Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe” (John rsv).
Ask, What did Thomas believe? How did his words reveal his belief? If
Thomas had used the words Lord and God merely as an exclamation
of surprise, wouldn’t that have been blasphemy? Wouldn’t Jesus have rebuked
him? Why did Jesus commend him? What belief that Thomas expressed would bring
blessings on others in the future who also come to believe the same thing? If I
visited the local Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses and told the elders there
that I accept Jesus as “My Lord and my God,” will they commend me for my
The purpose of all these questions is twofold: (1) to
get the JW to see what the Bible actually says, in context; and (2) tohelp him reach a conclusion about the meaning
of the verse that is different from the prepackaged conclusion offered by his
If you tell him what the verse means, then you
are simply offering him another prepackaged conclusion—namely, yours—and
he must decide whether to accept yours or the Watchtower’s. But, if you can
skillfully ask the right questions to enable him to reach the right conclusion
in his own mind, it will have a much more profound effect.
To learn how to do this—how to ask leading questions
that let you teach answers without telling answers—study the
example of Jesus Christ. As the greatest teacher ever to walk the earth, he
knew how to instruct his hearers by asking them questions. When people doubted
that he had the power to forgive sins, he asked, “Which is easier: to say to
the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, take your mat and
walk’?” (Mark 2:9 niv). When
enemies tried to trap him in the controversy over whether or not to pay taxes
to Caesar, he had them produce a coin and then asked, “Whose portrait is this?
And whose inscription?” (Mark niv). Faced with Pharisees who
disapproved of his healing on the Sabbath, he asked, “Which of you, having a
donkey or an ox that has fallen into a pit, will not immediately pull him out
on the Sabbath day?” (Luke 14:5 nkj).
In each case the answer that his listeners were forced to come up with in their
own minds was powerful and conclusive.
Besides being useful in the case of Jehovah’s Witnesses,
who are programmed to accept questions but not teaching from persons outside
their religion, questions are a powerful teaching tool in their own right. This
is because people are much more strongly impressed by answers they form in
their own minds than by answers fed to them by someone else.
Elementary-school-classroom teachers know and use this technique when teaching
children, and you can do the same with Jehovah’s Witnesses. For example, if you
assert that Jesus was resurrected bodily, which is contrary to Watchtower
teaching, you will make little headway with a JW; but if you have the same
Witness read in John 2:19, 20 niv:
“ ‘Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.… ’ the temple
he had spoken of was his body” (italics added), and then ask, “What did
Jesus say would happen to his body?” the Witness will know the right
answer even if he is afraid to say it out loud.
After hearing this technique explained, a man who had
previously been in the habit of arguing doctrine with his JW wife summed it up
this way: Instead of wagging your finger in their faces, you get the finger to
wag inside their heads.
And whose finger is it that begins to wag inside the
Witness’s head when Scripture is presented in this way, using questions rather
than arguments? It is the finger of his or her own conscience, since deep inside,
they come to realize what is right.… “their consciences also bearing witness,
and their thoughts now accusing … them” (Rom.