A few of you asked for an update on my meeting with two Jehovah’s Witness members, Vida and Perry. Vida had come by months ago and gave me a Watchtower magazine. I flipped through it and threw it away (sort of like getting the mail – my operative questions are, “What can I throw away? What do I have to pay?).
The day Vida came to the door she asked me about government, a good lead in since that’s on most minds these days. Jehovah’s Witnesses, though I don’t know if they are strictly non-participants in government, take a dim view of worldly governments and involvement in anything outside of the Kingdom of God. I told them that everything we do is a political statement: I proclaim to the government that my allegiance is not as much to the flag or the U.S. as much as to Christ. If there’s a conflict, I’m going with Christ.
There are several common views of this idea of kingdoms in conflict:
- Oil and water view of government and religion (low involvement): “We don’t mix politics and religion.” This is perhaps the most dangerous position because it follows the same acultural and ahistorial reasoning that assumes we are not in some real way enculturated and tempered by our own history. While claiming our politics don’t affect our discipleship, we could be more influenced than those who acknowledge bias or involvement in certain areas. I hear this view espoused by both extreme liberalists and extreme fundamentalists.
- Battle for Christian virtues in government view (highly involved): “We’re trying to save our Christian nation.” We try to win over government with Christian ideals, virtue. This has been tried in the 1800s during the Great Awakening and at many other times previously. This usually ends up being good for the government and bad for the church. The church may influence government but in the process the church’s message and witness is damaged. One major and well-known adherent to this view is James Dobson and his ministries.
- Kingdom of God only legit government view (non-participation): “We won’t vote or participate in an illegit government – the only authentic and approved participation for the Christian is in the Kingdom of God. Restorationist David Lipscomb was a non-participationist, pacifist. Many believer’s church, primitivist, Anabaptist-rooted churches have strains of this notion of non-participation in government. But our views have become mixed over the years. For instance, I had a political science prof in college who was in the Navy, participates heavily in the political process, but because of principle does not say the pledge of allegiance. Consider the contrast between the “Battle for Christian virtues in government view” that wants to guard the 1954 addition (approved by Eisenhower) of “under God” in the pledge.
Well, I haven’t gotten to what happened when Vida and Perry came to visit last Saturday. I asked them to come for about an hour and visit. They wanted to talk more about government and prove their points about God’s government being the only legit one. I turned the discussion toward something I care more about. I asked, “What does your view of government and these church doctrines have to do with your discipleship/faith?”
Both Perry and Vida had been Baptist, and Perry said JW then answered more of his questions that his old church avoided. We talked about the relative uncertainties of life and that we don’t have all the answers. They pressed the point that yes, indeed, we can have all answers to life’s questions. Sounded familiar from my background. I told them I’d tried that and it didn’t work and was not even biblical (questions not cock-surity abound for God’s children and disciples throughout Scripture). I said that there is mystery in God’s nature, identity, in how Christ and the Holy Spirit interact and who they are as one and three and their work in the world. We understand much from Scripture, our experience, but there is much (perhaps more) that we don’t understand, and I’m learning to be OK with that. They didn’t like that, and neither do many “mainline” evangelicals or fundamentalists or Restorationists of my own stripe.
As we moved to talk about the nature and identity of Jesus, they were teaching me the JW line on the humanity of Jesus and the oneness of God. I said I believe God is both three and one. I believe in the trinity, that Jesus was not created but has been pre-existent with God from everlasting to everlasting. They said Jesus was created before he was born into the world. I asked what happened to produce Jesus before he was born into the world. They didn’t know. I said, “Well, I guess there’s some uncertainty, some mystery in your view as well as in mine.” I said I don’t believe Jesus was merely a “form” of the one God on earth but a distinct person who was with God from the beginning but who was incarnated (became flesh) in the world through a virgin who was made pregnant by the Holy Spirit. My views are basically the Orthodox views of Christianity through the ages, so I’m not saying anything new here.
I may meet another time with Vida and Perry. They are zealous for their faith and something in that makes me want to observe how they live out this zeal, because much of the Christian and cultic world thrives on the zeal of their followers and many assumptions are made about what that looks like. I, along with many others in recent years, have come to seriously question the assumptions of exactly how evangelistic zeal is supposed to look: knocking doors, spouting certain proof texts, convincing with arguments. Yet I can learn something about God in meeting with my neighbors, something about how to treat my neighbor, something about how to move closer toward the kingdom together.