Those of us from an older generation often looked forward to reading “advice columns.” Twin sisters “Ann Landers” and “Abigail VanBuren” wrote competing and entertaining columns that appeared daily in our hometown newspapers. Occasionally they included responses and suggestions from their readers that were actually useful and informative.
In early 1979 “Dear Abby” published a reader response to an earlier article that involved complaints about “door-to-door preachers” and “religious hucksters.” Abby’s original suggestion was to be polite and “…Tell them you don’t want to take up their valuable time.”
However, that reader suggested a far more dramatic and pointed response to Bible salesmen, Mormon missionaries, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and other unwanted religious zealots who might knock on someone’s door.
When the “Dear Abby” article was published in March 1979, the style of Jehovah’s Witness door-to-door preaching was quite different from what it is today. Between the 1930s through the late 1970s, individual Witnesses considered themselves actual ministers – “preachers of the Truth.” Witnesses were trained to actively engage and try to have a conversation with the householders and others they met during street witnessing. Some dedicated (or over-enthusiastic) Witnesses could be as aggressive and intrusive as the fabled door-to-door “vacuum cleaner” and “Fuller Brush” salesmen that made frequent visits to private homes between 1930 and 1960. Some Witnesses simply would not take “I’m not interested” as a valid response.
Times have truly changed
While door-to-door and street preaching are still options in their active ministry, the process and frequency of personal contact with the public have changed dramatically for Witnesses over the past decade. Now it is rare for most JWs to try to go beyond simply reading a Bible verse and then offering a flyer or invitation for an upcoming local convention or “Memorial” observance. Their presentation will often involve sharing a page or illustration on their own Ipad or tablet computer screen to those showing some interest. Few modern Witnesses will try (or want) to engage anyone directly or get involved in deeper levels of discussion.
It’s quite difficult to engage in a real conversation with Jehovah’s Witnesses who come to your home. It can be quite a challenge to even chat with those who stand beside literature stands on public streets. The Witnesses have gone from aggressive “spreading the Good News,” to actually avoiding any real personal conversation or debate with anyone they meet while preaching. They’ll read you a scripture, but they don’t want you to read one to them – just as described in the response to Dear Abby.
Today’s Witnesses just want to press a printed invitation or handbill into your hand and then move on down the street. For many JWs – the shorter the conversation the better. They still count the hours as “preaching” whether they actually converse with anyone.