On Approaching People in the Ministry
November 30, 2019
Yikes! $50 per minute to speak with a householder?!
So says a gag sign posted on someone’s porch. “Doorknockers, please note. This householder charges $50 per minute to listen to any sales pitch, religious messages, or fundraising stories! Payment required in advance. By knocking on this door, you indicate that you are agreeing to these terms.”
Video has captured a couple of visitors—our people, I think. The one on the sidewalk says: “What’s it say?” and the nearsighted woman squinting to read it responds with: “Let’s skip this one.”
I’m done for if this catches on!......
Actually, as far as I am concerned, this sign represents a win-win. It does not make me mad. It is doing me a favor. If anyone doesn’t want to talk to me, then I don’t want to talk to them.
There is a squirrelly assumption that underpins this meme: that Jehovah’s Witnesses are determined to talk to each householder no matter what,and are incredibly frustrated if stymied. It plays into the infantile view that they are “recruiting,” a view popularly spread by “anti-cultists” who obsess over all the ways that people can “manipulate” others. They abhor all forms of “brainwashing” except for the brainwashing that is theirs, as they safeguard mainstream values—values that have not worked out very well insofar as promoting overall peace and well-being. If the mainstream thinking contained answers to the vexing questions of life, people would’t have to worry for one second about “sects” and even “cults”—they would be rejected out of hand.
So are Jehovah’s Witnesses “recruiting?”
“I am going to ask you to convert,” I told a certain householder, “but it is not going to happen until the 100th call—and what are the chances It will go on for so long? In the meantime, it is just conversation.” To householders who state they have their own religion or spirituality and who decline conversation on that basis I say, “Well, I’m not going to ask you to change, and if I do, you can say No.” I mean, it is fine to decline conversation—more people do than do not—but just not on that basis. You might say it to an evangelical Christian—the sort that actually dofeature instant conversion of the “Come down and be saved!” variety. You might say it to a Moonie, because their people are known to disappear off the surface of the globe, only to reappear in robes selling flowers. But you ought not say it to one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, whose members live and work in the general community.
No, the sign does me a favor. I have no problem with it. It might be different if they proliferated so that they became a commonplace gag sign, just a fad witticism inspired by late-night TV that didn’t necessarily mean anything. In that case, I might just walk away or I might playfully attempt to negotiate terms before deciding if I wanted to enter into such a “contract.” “Well, a guy has to serve the Lord,” I will say non-aggresively to some while trying to size them up. You’ve got to have a sense of humor.
Like a No Soliciting sign, there are no legal consequences to blowing past it, [in the U.S.—it may be different elsewhere] and like a No Soliciting sign, it doesn’t necessarily mean anything. It might be put up by a previous owner, and the current one sees no reason to remove it. It might be put up by a family member that died. It might have been put up after those pushy people selling vacuum cleaners left. It might be put up in the heat of election campaign season. It might be put up to dissuade Jehovah’s Witnesses, but I do not assume that is the case.
”I saw your sign and was a little concerned that you might think it applies to me,” I sometimes say when one of them is staring me in the face. “It doesn’t—but you might think it does.” You can assess by the response if the householder had that intention or not, and if he did, I have no problem moving on from what would cause both of us stress. Don’t argue, “We’re not soliciting,” because it really doesn’t matter whether you are or not. What matters is what the householder thinks you are doing. Of course, you can tell him that what he thinks is wrong, but that is never a fine foundation for a visit, is it?
I have said at times, when my attention is directed to such a sign, “Oh. Well....I’ll make sure not to do that, then,” either by soliciting money (which Witnesses never do) or soliciting opinions—drawing people out—which we do. Simply tell them stuff, don’t ask them a thing—that is enough to technically comply with such a sign. But the trick is not to argue over technicalities. The trick is to see if such and such a vague sign actually means anything to the householder and respect his wishes if it does.
No, a No Soliciting sign means nothing legally, same as this new $50 per hour JW sign that some are giggling over means nothing. The only sign with legal consequences (in the US) is a No Trespassing sign, and even that only has legal consequences for individual dwellings—you can’t wall off an entire community with a No Trespassing sign. To be sure, some are trying to change that, but the idea of answering for large swaths of other people is repugnant to most and so the change may not readily happen.
Let’s face, this sign is kind of crude, and not too many people are going to put one up. It is sort of like that sign in which you find yourself as though staring down the barrel of a gun that says, “Never mind the dog! Beware of the owner!” I don’t just jauntily breeze by that sign as though is was a Welcome mat. I tread a bit cautiously. If my companion was to turn around and leave, I wouldn’t blame him a bit. Still, you never know. I was leaving one such home—no one had answered—and as I was walking away, a pickup truck drove in with a gun rack in the back window. “Great!” I muttered to myself—“probably a real hothead here!” He turned out to be the nicest guy in the world—very respectful of our purpose and of the Bible. There was a lot of crime in the neighborhood and he had just “weaponed-up” for the protection of his family.
These signs are not a red light—No Soliciting, Beware of Whatever—but they certainly are a yellow light. They are not a yellow light legally, but they are a yellow light in that they might reveal something of thehouseholders wishes, and I have no problem always complying with their wishes once I know what they are.
As it is, Jehovah’s Witnesses have a method to keep note of those who have emphatically said that the don’t want JW calls ever. It is an imperfect system and I usually forget to consult it, but it works better than nothing. Ironically, it may all vanish one day if the current “data-keeping” laws gathering steam in Europe, spearheaded by the same people who see “manipulation” everywhere, spreads to the US. It will be illegal to keep track of who doesn’t want a call. As it is, one US brother I know reported on a trip to Europe and how the brothers there were wrestling with these new anti data-gathering laws that had never been intended (at least, by most) for them, but were being applied to them, with: “Good! They’ve just made your job easier! Preach to one and all and don’t worry about any “records”—keeping track of them is a pain in the neck!”
What about a child answering the door? For me, that depends upon the age of the child. For a teen, sometimes I will go Bible-lite, such as commenting on what the words of the Lord’s Prayer literally mean, and I do not press any point. Or show a video geared to teens—I have never had a teen not pay rapt attention to the video, “Be Social-Network Smart.” With teens, I have sometimes told them that I really don’t know what to do with teens, because they are learning and gathering data, but they are also under their parent’s roof, with the latter guiding that process, and so they may or may not want them speaking to persons of different beliefs at the door, and ‘which is it with them’?
Even that doesn’t guarantee anything. One parent that I finally encountered said, “I don’t appreciate you speaking to my children,”—I had done so twice and had shown a couple of videos. I responded that I had never been looking for the kids—I had been looking for her—and that when the teens had answered I had asked them whether their parents would want them speaking to a visitor about religion and they had said she would not care. “Kids will say anything!” she told me. So I explained that I would not call again (she said ‘thank you’), repeated that I had never been looking for them in the first place, and even was able to give a brief synopsis for why we call at all—she became pleasant.
Another teen—I had just finished something brief and similar—he had been home alone. As I left, the mother drove up in the driveway. I told her who I was, that I had spent a few minutes speaking with her son, I had asked him a question and he had answered intelligently. “You should be proud of him,” I said as I took my leave.
Cultures are different. I once handed a tract to a child with directions to give it to her parents, and upon leaving, my companion said that she would have witnessed to the child. My companion was newly arrived from South America where it is commonplace for parents to allow and even encourage children to talk religion to anyone calling about it. There are congregations there heavily populated by children with the full blessing of parents who do not attend themselves—respect for God runs deep in some lands and the assumption is that you cannot go wrong allowing your children to learn about the Bible.
Though the following has nothing to do with the Bible, it has everything to do with that fact that cultures are different, and so when the Witness organization speaks in a way that is not really my cup of tea, I say, “It is probably one of those others cultures that they are taking into consideration.”
There is a large community of deaf persons in Rochester NY. Accordingly, there are a number of Witnesses who make their living as translators. One of them told me of a certain deaf family of two adults and two children—all deaf—who are known not only locally but also nationally, and the following story is told nationally as a way of highlighting the challenges of catering to different cultures:
A neighboring “hearing” girl would come over to play at the home of the deaf family. The two children were surprised that she didn’t seem able to sign very well at all, but they all managed to sign well enough to each other to get by. Then the two children went to the little girl’s home to play, where they saw the mother not signing at all! Her mouth kept moving, and the little girl seemed satisfied with that, but there was no signing. Upon returning home, they related their bewilderment to their parents and asked, “Are there other people like that?”