Beware of people who knock on the door. Especially if you run a thrift store with the door wide open, which means they don’t even have to knock. On the last shift of the week (Saturday afternoon), I sustained an ideological onslaught from a Jehovah’s Witness and lived to tell the tale. This is it.
(Unfortunately I am no longer in the habit of secretly recording my customers, otherwise I would have the full event on file; as it is, I will now have to recreate it as faithfully as my traumatized memory allows.)
Enter the JW (or shall we call him the SJW, as in, Supercilious Jehovah’s Witness?)
I was sitting at my post in the thrift store, writing an email to Alison Miller about her harassment by the Satanic Temple. The man came in and recognized me but didn’t realize it at first; I also recognized him and I knew he wasn’t there to shop.
He was probably my age but looked older; or maybe he is older but trying to look younger. A full head of hair, tanned, with a rubbery face, aspiring but failing to be handsome, except in a Robert-Wagner, American TV star way—like a CEO for a ponsie scheme pseudo-company, or a Scientologist who has had the best plastic surgery he could afford. A self-made spiritual car salesman.
Though I didn’t remember exactly what org he was affiliated with, I knew I wasn’t going to want whatever he was selling. He asked, in the negative, if the owner wasn’t here. Then, as I started to tell him that one of them was, he said he knew me and, to cover himself, noted how different I looked. He said that, the last time he’d come in, I had just gone off to England, a year and a half ago or so.
I had got to my feet by now so as to give him my full attention. It was clear he would require it, one way or another. Probably my body knew what was in store and I wanted my feet planted and my arms freed up.
He got out his Watchtower magazine folder and laid it on the counter. He began by mentioning that my wife had said I was interested in reading them. This was either a lie or a mistranslation: my wife may have said to him, at one time or another, that I was interested in talking to JWs, because it is true that, against my better interests perhaps, I very occasionally do engage them in discussion (there is an older German man in town who shook Hitler’s hand as a boy, and we have talked in depth once or twice).
But talking to human beings because that is what they are is a very far cry from reading tacky JW pamphlets, the mere idea of which I found, in the moment, demeaning to my self-respect.
“No, I’m not,” I said. “I added something about being a writer and doing my own research. “I prefer to go straight to the Bible if I want to know about God,” I said, or words to that effect. I then added, somewhat apologetically, due to a deep aversion to ever misrepresenting myself, especially about God, that I hadn’t been reading the Bible much lately.
The JW continued insisting, not exactly gently but insidiously, that I read the magazines. Accordingly, I increased the pushback.
In response to my preference for reading the Bible over some shallow Reader’s Digest version, the JW assured me that the material he was offering would save me lots of time, by pointing me to all the passages in the Bible about Jesus. Otherwise, he said, I would have to read hundreds of pages of the Bible—as if that would be a bad thing to inflict on myself.
Undaunted, not yet on the defensive, and still enjoying the possibility of a real conversation developing, I stressed that I didn’t want to rely on intermediaries but preferred to go right to the source. He didn’t seem to be hearing me, however, so I decided to simplify it for him, while at the same time upping my game.
“If I want to find Jesus Christ,” I said, “I will seek him in my heart.”
If memory serves, this was the only moment that caused him momentary pause. He quickly regained his footing, however, and relaunched his ideological attack:
“The Bible says your heart is untrustworthy, so you might not want to look for Jesus there!”
I was frankly taken aback by this, though I was familiar with the reasoning. Naïvely, I asked him: “So where am I going to find Jesus if not in my heart?”
He didn’t miss a beat: “In the word of God,” he said, and pointed at his tacky binder again.
“So you’re saying that a book is a better place to look for Jesus than my own heart?”
The Witness only repeated his insistence that my heart was, verily, not to be trusted.
“Neither is the Bible,” I said. “It’s been written and rewritten and translated and retranslated, and there are hundreds of different versions by now. So while I can allow that my heart may not be entirely trustworthy . . .”
He didn’t let me finish my thought. “For someone who hasn’t read the Bible,” he said, “you seem to think you know a lot about it.”
“I didn’t say I hadn’t read it,” I replied, increasingly on edge, “just that I haven’t been reading it much lately.”
“I have read it hundreds of times,” he said, “so that must mean I understand it a lot better than you do!”
It was at this point, I think, that the Satanic JW managed to formally get my goat.
“I don’t want to be competitive,” I said, “but it doesn’t matter how many times you’ve read it, what counts is how well you understand it. And evidently you don’t understand it that well, because–”
He cut me off again, now in full patronization mode. It was apparent I had got his goat, too, because the mood in the shop had shifted from awkward encounter to full-on confrontation. I could feel his distaste for me, and I could definitely feel mine for him.
“Let me ask you a question,” he said, “and we’ll see who knows the Bible better.”
“OK,” I said, game for the Pepsi challenge.
“What is the Kingdom of Heaven?” he said.
I probably smiled, confident I was on solid ground. “That’s what I have been trying to communicate to you, isn’t it. The kingdom of heaven is something we only find by going deep wi—”
Utterly indifferent to my answer now he had confirmed it was the wrong one, he cut me off triumphantly: “The Bible says the Kingdom of Heaven is the government of God,” he crowed. “So clearly, you don’t know your Bible.” (I am not 100% sure he said that second part, but it was conveyed via the smug satisfaction with which he “trumped” me with his own, official SJW version of the Gospel.)
By now I was starting to feel consumed by disgust, and it was all I could do not to hurl childish religious insults his way (such as, calling him the Antichrist). Containing myself as best I was able, I said something about how he wasn’t doing a very good job speaking for God, in any case. He countered that, on the contrary, he had been very successful with “hundreds of families” upon whose doors he had knocked over the years.
“Well, you haven’t been very successful with me,” I said, back on solid ground again.
But he was already on his way out the door. Hoping to get the last word before he left, he tossed one last Jehovah bomb: “That’s because you’re not open!” he snapped, and turned to walk away.
“Don’t come back here!” I lobbed at his retreating back.
I was quite disoriented for a while afterwards by how quickly the meeting went south. I even complained about it to one of my customers, but it was futile. I suppose I really need to take it up with Jesus.
Recommended related reading: