“Oh, you are NOT going to tell me that Jehovah's Witnesses aren't fundamentalists. Please don't tell me that.” But I did tell him that, right between the eyes. We're not fundamentalists. Alright, so we have some attributes in common with fundamentalists, but we also have attributes in common with the liberal churches, and some with the science rationalist types. We're all over the board and not easy to pigeonhole.
My daughter - I was working with her that day, which is a rare occurrence since we attend different congregations - she would have said 'yes,' she told me, she thought we fit the fundamentalist tag. But now I have my hands on the Aug 2010 Awake magazine, just released, and the Awake says no, we don't:
Page 5, an FAQ page: “Are Jehovah's Witnesses Protestants, Fundamentalists, or a sect?”
“Jehovah's Witnesses are Christians, but they are not Protestants for the same reason that they are not Catholics – they recognize certain teachings of those religions as unscriptural. For example, the Bible does not teach that God – the very personification of love – tortures people forever in a fiery hell. Nor does it teach that humans have an immortal soul or that Christians should meddle in politics. (Ezek 18:4, John 15:19; 17:14, Romans 6:23).......Some Fundamentalist organizations “have adopted social and political positions based on a literal use of biblical texts. [I swear there are people to whom you'll say “stop beating around the bush” and they'll start looking for the bush.] That definition does not fit Jehovah's Witnesses.”
The chief lesson to be learned here is that Papa's always right. Always. Even if he has to stretch the point nearly to snapping, well...one does whatever it takes. Conversations I've had with Mrs. Sheepandgoats, for instance:
“Have I ever let you down?” I ask rhetorically. “Yes!” she answers immediately. (So much for rhetorical questions)
“No,” she admits. “All right, then!” I crow.
Men are an interesting species, don't you know. Every bit as interesting, in their own way, as women.
But we've strayed from our householder - a lapsed Catholic, he told me. I fear it won't be the last time we stray from him.
This fellow lives in a territory I used to work all the time. Southeast Rochester. It's an eclectic area. At one door you find a Buddhist. At the next a nudist. One stately, well-off, single family home - the next house just as stately but carved into four or five apartments. Lots of gays in the neighborhood, too, and you gotta admit, where there are gays there are usually the arts, music, bistros, restored homes, gardens, and so forth. (why is that?) They can be somewhat hostile if you approach them in the wrong way, and almost any way is the wrong way, since they're apt to assume you'll be intolerant, and they like tolerance, but I sometimes can converse with them by telling them about my gay roommate in college. I didn't know he was gay, of course, he hadn't yet 'come out,' but I got along with him well. He was an organ major, as I recall, and he scored some minor film project I made. Now....you know how they say most gays are outwardly just like anyone else and you can never spot them by appearance alone? Well, this fellow you could; he filled every stereotype to a tee, but I just never pay attention to those things (though passing years have made me more observant). Anyhow, after summer recess one year, he says he has some big announcement to make, and we meet at the local snack joint. He's gay, he tells me, he always has been, and now he's come out of the closet, and how does that affect the way I'm going to look at him? Um....well....hmmm....I don't really know why it should make any difference, and so forth....he's still the same person, after all – all this happened long before I became a Witness. But whatever the lukewarm answer I might have given, he was conscious of a new status between us, and gradually withdrew. In time, I didn't see him anymore.
But, once again, returning to our householder:
He was using a weedwhacker or something in his side yard, whacking weeds. Now, I used to hate when people were whacking weeds or doing anything outdoors, because it was painfully obvious you were interrupting them. Most Witnesses prefer people to be behind their doors where they belong. But over time I began to realize that they're doing things indoors as well, only you don't see it, so you assume they're just sitting on their hands. In fact, they may be doing things more sacred to them than any activity outside, such as watching TV. So it really doesn't matter to me anymore whether they're inside or out, although, it must be admitted, groups of people outside remain a challenge, and usually the game is lost before you begin. They see you coming afar off, and even if this or that one might be up to conversing one-on-one, fat chance they'll want to do so in front of their peers. Best to say something a little outrageous, like “you look like guys that want to talk about the Bible.“ Sometimes that buys you a little space you can cling to with your fingernails, but even if not, it generally leaves everyone in reasonably good humor.
The all-time awkward situation I encountered was when working with Andy Laguna, the Circuit Overseer. We were working a city residential territory and there was a bar on the corner, so he walks right in and starts witnessing to the bartender amidst a few half-tanked patrons. Andy's friendly and persistent, unafraid and non-threatening, and it went well for a time, but eventually conversation veered south – some of the patrons got a little surly (this was many years ago). “I dunno why you're telling this to us! (Andy had been speaking of good government, integrity, honesty, etc, with a view towards 'we need the Kingdom') What you should do is go into city hall and tell all those dirty rotten politicians – yeah, tell them – they're the ones who need to hear it!” one fellow blurted out, getting worked up. “Oh, we do...we do,” Andy replied placidly. “And you know what they tell us? That we should go into the saloons!”
But back to the lapsed Catholic whacking weeds, as I approached him, hesitatingly, I said: “I wonder if I can get away with interrupting you for a couple minutes.” “Try,” he responded encouragingly, so I did. I was working with that Habakkuk presentation, made appropriate remarks about not staying forever, and so forth. But he brought up a few things - he was an educated man. I liked the fellow. "Well - I said I was just going to stay a couple of minutes, but now you've brought up a whole new topic. If we go there, it's on your dime, not mine" We may have visited twenty minutes or so. It's well to end your remarks with something gracious: "I appreciate your time. We come without appointment; people are doing things. You certainly have no obligation to speak with us, yet you did anyway. Thanks for your time. Take care, now."
Oh – and by the way, I think it was from Andy that I learned a not-bad way of handling aggressive evangelicals. It doesn't happen too often, but every once in a while, you'll find one of them eagerly awaiting us, with a stack of anti-JW literature and non-stop rhetoric to match. But it was Andy who said “look, if I came to visit you, it must be because I felt I had something to offer. Now, I might entertain what you want to tell me, but it would have to be at a time when you drop by my place.” “Where do you live...where do you live...where do you live?” the other would rapid-fire reply. “No, no,” Andy would respond, “you'll just run into me eventually in the course of your normal door to door ministry.”
Oh, and back to the lapsed Catholic....um...you know, I kind of forget what else we spoke about. But we had a pleasant conversation, I remember that....it was a fine day in the ministry, low 60's, and the sun was out.