Sometimes I daydream about going to grad school. But for most of the programs that I’d like to go to school for, it would be useful to have a bachelor’s degree in the program. History, music, theology . . . these are the subjects I keep going back to. In all three areas, I’ve been kicking it up a notch in the last few years.
Theologically, this has taken an odd, but very fulfilling turn. For a little background, I’m Catholic, living in Mexico, but grew up as a Methodist (with serious Lutheran leanings) from the midwest. When I moved to Mexico, I regularly attended a Bible study at a nondenominational church, just to find friends, be encouraged, etc.
Then, a few months later, a woman at my Catholic parish invited me to a Bible study, too! So I joined that, as well. In both settings, I find myself defending the other “side” of the religious debate. (At the nondenominational church, I defend my Catholic beliefs, and in my Catholic group, I explain the quirks involved in modern Protestantism.)
But, when my Catholic group gets on the subject of Protestants, they generally get fixated on Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses. Background: for some reason, there has always been an LDS church down street from me in every city I’ve lived in, in Mexico . . . for a country that’s 85% Catholic (and in my 12 years here, I’ve only known ONE Mormon), I wonder how they have so many churches–but they do!) And, thanks to their door-to-door ministry, those Jehovah’s Witnesses make a name for themselves! 😉
As a “standard” Protestant, I rush to the defense of the traditions I was a part of and counter, “oh–no, no, no–we don’t count those groups as Christian!”
OK, LDS churches have their own book (The Book of Mormon), so that sets them apart, of course. But Jehovah’s Witnesses? I had received enough of their literature, so knew they believed in and deeply respected the Bible, so I really had no idea why “mainstream” groups didn’t consider them Christian.
Every few months, a Jehovah’s Witness missionary that I had met in Parras would show up at my door, deliver some brochures, and go on her merry way. She always offered to lead me in a Bible study, to get to know them better.
One day, I decided I did want to know what exactly it was that they believed. So I let her in.
We’ve been meeting fairly regularly for years now. My personal theology has deepened and grown, in ways that I never anticipated. But I remain Catholic.
Thanks to defending that faith, I’m more grounded in my faith than I was when I began this journey with my Jehovah’s Witness friend. In further posts, I’ll explain those theological points in more detail. But, for now, these are some of the main things I’ve learned:
- Jehovah’s Witnesses aren’t really all that different from “mainline” Christian traditions. We go around saying that they’re not Christian. They go around saying that they’re the only “true Christians”. When we really talk things out, it turns out that we’re really talking about the same things. Sure, we draw lines in the sand (of where we define Christianity). But, in the end, we all believe that God loves us, and that we’re only made right with God through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
- I went into this journey just with the intention of learning about what Jehovah’s Witnesses believe. I did not set out to “convert” my missionary. She wouldn’t be a full-time missionary if she wasn’t firmly grounded in her faith. By not trying to get some kind of outcome from our interchange (beyond having a better understanding of someone else’s perspective), this has been a fruitful, growing experience. And, let’s face it–“converting someone” is only the work of the Holy Spirit, anyway.
- Beyond having a solid understanding of the Bible, my Jehovah’s Witness friends also attend weekly meetings through their church (they call them Kingdom Halls) on public speaking. On numerous occasions, I know that I understand my faith in my head, but I have the toughest time explaining it with words! We’re all called to be witnesses, so we should all be ready to explain what we believe, at any time. However, to be effective in telling that story, I’m convinced that it’s essential to practice defending or explaining our faith–out loud, with words. They practice, on a regular basis, which is why they’re known for being evangelical–something those of us in more staid traditions could learn from.
- Jehovah’s Witnesses, as an organization, have an amazing system of periodicals, pamphlets, books, etc., which systematically explain their faith. It’s translated into thousands of languages, and is accessible for people at all levels of faith. The evangelical zeal that they are known for is just impressive. On numerous occasions, my parish priest has commended them from the pulpit for this organization and zeal. While we may not agree on everything they claim to be true, they do have some things right!
Mostly, I’ve been impressed with the level of professionalism and respect that Becky, Alba, and I have been able to share with one another. While they do clearly believe that some of my beliefs are wrong (and vice versa), we discuss them on a rational level. Respect never leaves the equation.
Agreeing to Disagree
We’ve all challenged each other–but respectfully. When we disagree, we can always take a week to gather more information, present it, and then let that digest. I’m not one to form quick opinions. So, slowly letting things digest (and to bounce ideas off of other sources) has been a great means of growth for me.
In this age of quick opinions and held-to-the-death beliefs (have you read the comments section after ANY article lately?), this approach of mulling things over, respecting someone else’s perspective, and taking the time to research one’s own firmly, held views has restored my faith in humanity. Or, at least, restored my faith that we can still love those and grow from others whose opinions we don’t share.
So, want to shake up your faith life? Find yourself a Jehovah’s Witness!
(OK, I know that’s not everyone’s cup of tea–so hang in her for a few weeks, and I’ll explain what I’ve gleaned from this experience!)