Jehovah’s Witnesses, as they engage in their ministry, sometimes make uncomfortable people who don’t really care about spiritual things but somewhere in the back of their head is a nagging thought that they should.
And we make uncomfortable those who assume that we are there to change their religion—the religion has not put them on equal footing to discuss intelligently the Bible—they know almost nothing about it. This is a circumstance very strange, when you think about it, since most of them simply assume that the Book provides their faith’s underpinning. What a shocker for some when they discover that it is not so.
With some, judging from their quick response, this discomfort is nearly to the point of panic—just like an ordinary joe might panic at the thought of an encounter with the time-share salesperson. “I have my own religion, and I am very happy with it,” they hastily say.
”Well, I’m not going to ask you to change it, and if I do you can say ‘no’” is my reply. “It’s just conversation.”
I mean, they may not want to converse—more don’t than do— and if they don’t, that is fine, but I hate it to be for that reason.
One conversation with a college student was interesting enough that I proposed coming back. “To what end?” he said. Nobody had ever replied to me that way before. So I told him my ideal scenario—that over the course of 100 weeks, I would call back 100 times for 100 conversations—during which he would learn the Bible from front to back, and I would learn some things, too—and on visit #100 I would ask him if he wanted to become a Jehovah’s Witness like me and then he could say “no.” Once again, it’s just conversation.
I even asked him to play along on a practice session. I would ask him to become a Jehovah’s Witness, and he was to say “no.” He agreed to this.
”Would you like to become a Jehovah’s Witness like me?” I said. “No,” he replied. “See?” I said. “It’s easy. In the meantime you will learn the Bible and then you can better decide what you think about it”
This is called the Dickens approach and it is suggested by the ending of “Tale of Two Cities.” In that ending Sidney Carton visits Charles Darney, a prisoner in the Bastille being held for execution, during time of the French Revolution. He has repented of his profligate life and has determined to smuggle this better man out. Of course, he can only do this if he takes his place and tricks the guards—it has already been noted in the novel that he remarkably resembles the man in physical appearance. One by one he suggests to Darnay exchanging articles of clothing. Each time Darnay protests—he has no idea what Carton is up to. “What do you think you’re doing?” he objects. “Do you think you can break me out? It’s not possible to escape from here.”
Each time Carton answers: “Did I say anything about escape? Wait until I mention escape and then say “no.” In this way he persuades the man to swap clothes, as though to humor him, though he knows not why.
A strict application of the Dickens method in field service necessitates saying: “Did I say anything about you changing your religion? Wait until I ask you to do that and then say “no.” I have done this, but it’s a little easier to phrase it as I did initially: “Well, I’m not going to ask you to change your religion, and if I do you can say ‘no.’” It comes across as less of a rebuke.
It is important that your householder has not actually read “Tale of Two Cities,” for if he has, he may recall that after the clothing exchange is completed, Carton chloroform’s Darnay, calls the guard to report that his visiting friend has fainted, overcome by emotion, and requests that he be carried out to the waiting carriage. If the householder points out that development, tell him that you do not intend to copy that part of the ending—strictly speaking, that would require you to take his place and become a Catholic, Muslim, or Hindu, and to assume his car and house payment, which may be substantial—not to mention live with his family, who may not be model. Besides, your own wife will throw a fit.
It is a favorite book of mine. Ruse completed, Carton later takes his place in the guillotine lineup. He is giving his life in behalf of his friend, and several times Jesus’ words are quoted as inspiration: “No man has love greater than this, that someone should surrender his life in behalf of his friends.” (John 15:13) Just before him in line is a scared 12-year old girl. She is willing to die for her country if it has been decreed that she must, but she cannot understand just how she could actually have become such a threat to it. Her eyes widen as she discovers that her companion is not actually Darnay, but is someone giving his life for that man. Carton offers to hold her hand, and thereby she finds the courage to face the terrible blade.