How Do You Answer When Your Beliefs Are Challenged
“TWO things I never talk about are religion and politics,” is the response of many people when these subjects come up. They know that unpleasant arguments and even loss of friends can result. So they avoid such subjects.
No doubt you also have your own convictions about such matters—and you may feel that you are right. Likely you do not feel that your beliefs should or could be changed. And if your convictions are unpopular or misunderstood, you know what strong feelings arise if you talk about them.
On the other hand, making a response when your beliefs are questioned often can be mutually beneficial. Open discussion may even remove groundless barriers and open others’ minds to new ideas that can truly benefit them. However, the way that you respond to those who disagree with you is often the key to whether the outcome is beneficial or harmful.
To strike out aggressively with your best arguments may at first seem the best way. But this can often be counterproductive, causing resentment. Better is the sage Biblical advice: “Always have your answer ready for people who ask you the reason for the hope that you all have. But give it with courtesy and respect.”—1 Pet. 3:15, 16, Jerusalem Bible (JB).
“Courtesy and respect” for the other person’s sincerity in his own beliefs help to avoid arousing harmful emotions when one is discussing controversial matters. That is why the Bible also recommends that when a person is defending his Christian faith, he is “not to engage in quarrels, but . . . to be kind to everyone, a good teacher, and patient. He has to be gentle when he corrects people who dispute what he says.”—2 Tim. 2:23-25, JB.
What Christ Jesus had to say in his day ran counter to strongly entrenched and cherished beliefs of most of the people to whom he spoke. Yet he won many hearts because he showed respect for others, even when under attack for his controversial teachings: “He was insulted and did not retaliate with insults.”—1 Pet. 2:23, JB.
The beliefs of some Christians today are misunderstood and may even be attacked by people who hold more conventional or popular views. Certainly those who profess to be Christians should reflect Christ’s way of answering, just as his early disciples did. When people observed how convincingly Peter and John spoke, for example, and “perceived that they were men unlettered and ordinary, they got to wondering. And they began to recognize about them that they used to be with Jesus.”.—Acts 4:13.
A modern illustration of how Christian principles can be used effectively was presented on a television program seen in many parts of Canada. A representative of Jehovah’s witnesses was questioned about some of their more controversial beliefs at Ontario’s McMaster University. The amphitheater of this modern university was filled to capacity with about 400 students. Under bright TV lighting, the moderator, a prepared panel of three students, and other students from the audience probed the Witnesses. Portions of the transcript follow.
Early in the discussion, the moderator asked a question the wording of which seemed to make Jehovah’s witnesses appear biased. Note how this problem was confronted directly, yet tactfully.
Moderator: “Why do you think that other religions are oppressive?”
Witness: “Of course, a statement made like that does sound rather blunt at first, but what we have in mind is that history shows that often religions, when coming into great power, [and] making unions with certain political systems, have been oppressive.”
Moderator: “Let’s take a branch of a religion, the Jesuits, for example. Do you think in their history they have been oppressive?’’
Witness: “Apparently many countries have thought so. There have been times when, for example, Jesuits have been expelled for meddling in political affairs of nations. There was even one time in history when the Pope himself felt it necessary to restrict them quite a bit. . . . If one has ever seen, for example, the murals of Diego Rivera in Mexico, these show quite plainly the cruel treatment of the native peoples, and other peoples, in an effort to force religious views and religious control.”
Allowing history to answer the question focused attention on the real problem. Then some questions were raised as to the politically neutral position of Jehovah’s witnesses.
Moderator: “Now, Jehovah’s witnesses urge their members to refrain from voting in elections and showing their allegiance to the flag in some countries. Why is that?”
Witness: “Well, to rephrase it slightly for the sake of clarification: It’s an individual choice on the part of each member on the matter of voting; but we believe that historically, Biblically, we are sound in this position of not being involved in the political scene. Christ himself told a Roman politician, nearly two thousand years ago, ‘My kingdom is not of this world.’ . . . [The historian] Augustus Neander, writing on the church in the first three centuries, plainly says that they stood aloof from the political state and they felt that what they could inject into the community was a more holy way of life that would be an example to others, and invite others to follow that. So what we feel [is]—they’re in their realm, we’re in ours—we’re trying to achieve similar goals; in certain cases, the identical goals. The Christian method is simply different from the political methods.”
The Witness continued on the matter of declining to pledge allegiance to any national flag:
Witness: “This is not disrespect, no more than the historical case of William Penn’s refusing to take off his hat before the king was disrespect. To him it was strictly a matter of conscience. With us it is. Anyone can check a reliable reference work—encyclopedia—on the origin of flags and find out that they were originally religious symbols and that various approaches made to recognizing them, saluting them, etc., pledging allegiance, had a religious background. To us, it’s a form of an idol. It’s a political image. It is a form of state worship, and we simply decline, respectfully, to participate, but we do not try to hinder anyone else.”
As the program proceeded, questioning was turned over to a preselected panel of three students who were evidently prepared to ask about matters on which they believed Jehovah’s witnesses to be vulnerable.
Questions from Students
First Panelist: “Christ spoke the Gospel of Good News. Good news to the poor, release to the captives, freedom to the oppressed. I’m wondering why your Gospel does not speak these things to people. Your Gospel is bad news, bad views, not good views.”
Witness: “It’s bad news for some people, Paul, because it means the end of a system that they’ve preferred to one that’s upright, just, to the blessing of the human family. . . . What we have preached to the people in those lands where many people thought it was bad news, was a release to the captives, a hope for the future, a release from sin and death through Christ.”
First Panelist: “Liberty to the oppressed is physical. It is not liberty to the oppressed in a spiritual sense, but in a physical sense. Good news to the poor means . . . giving them food. You see, you’re only concerned about the souls, saving people. The Gospel of Good News is to the whole man.”
First Panelist: “Are you doing this?”
First Panelist: “Are you feeding the sick?”
First Panelist: “Are you going to the physical man and giving him the things that he needs?”
Witness: “Right. [Audience reaction indicates that they realized that the questioner had made wrong assumptions.] In fact, I can tell you that right now—Jehovah’s witnesses don’t generally advertise this because Christ himself said not to let your one hand know what the other is doing in the matter of giving—but right now, we have a ship on the way to Honduras loaded with material for people who are suffering there.”
First Panelist: “That’s the . . . first kind of charitable act I’ve ever heard attributed to your organization.”
Witness: “Well, that’s the first you’ve heard of, but that isn’t the first occasion of it.”
First Panelist: “Well, this is all news to me.”
Witness: “Good. This has been beneficial and enriching then.”
First Panelist: “Your attitude that the world is bad and destined to destruction releases you from any responsibility towards the world, towards the environment, towards poverty, towards war prisoners, all the atrocities, injustices of our society. This is a modern heresy, totally unbiblical. How do you justify it?”
Witness: “Well, we don’t really fit what you’ve described.”
First Panelist: “But if you preach that the world is coming to an end so imminently, you have no concern for the world.”
Witness: “Yes [we do]. Because it means the end, not of the planet, not of human society, but the end of all those injustices that you are so concerned about. It means the terminating of that which has been so oppressive to man throughout the centuries so that there will be no more of these things. That’s good news!”
The fact that Jehovah’s witnesses have produced the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures still concerns some, as it did the next panelist.
Second Panelist: “Why did you go to all the work of having your own translation made when the King James Version already exists as a universally accepted translation?”
Witness: “For the same reason that Goodspeed produced his translation and Moffatt produced his.”
Second Panelist: “Can you tell me, who was the man that did this translation?”
Witness: “This was done by a body of men and they remain anonymous by their own wish . . . In fact, you have to do some searching today to find out who the translators were of the King James Version. The thing that proves the worth of the translation is not who the translators were, but the translation—the work itself.”
The third panelist was concerned about ‘setting dates’ and predicting the end. Answers made it clear that 1914 was only the beginning of the time of the end.
Third Panelist: “Well, anyhow, if it is the beginning of the end, . . . then the end must be very close?”
Third Panelist: “Then why are you investing all this money in real estate and new Kingdom Halls, and the new printing presses, when if you wait until the end you could have it all for nothing?”
Witness: “The reason why we’re doing it now, Eric, is because we have to, because of the tremendous growth in our organization, the demand for Bibles and Bible literature. And one thing is certain, once this system comes to an end any funds we have are not going to be usable or necessary then. So there is no point in hoarding it up and becoming a rich organization financially, investing it in other areas. We are using it for the purposes for which it was contributed by our own members, and that is, to spread the Gospel further.”
People often question the refusal of Jehovah’s witnesses to accept blood transfusions. During the questioning, a student raised hypothetical emergency situations in an effort to bypass the Scriptural prohibition mentioned in Acts 15:20, 29.
Student: “Well, suppose somebody was just coming to the hospital. They’ve got a few seconds to live. The only possible way out is a blood transfusion. Well, what’s your answer to that? I mean, that’s murder if you don’t let them accept that.”
Witness: “That situation doesn’t exist. Wherever there are cases where a person . . . let’s say comes in off the highway here . . . and there is extreme loss of blood. Every emergency room, in every hospital, has a plasma volume expander which can . . .”
Student: “Plasma doesn’t replace blood, though.”
Witness: “The need there is to keep the volume up in the system. It’s not the blood so much that’s needed then, but the volume that must be replaced. These expanders will do it. They are used in emergency situations; they are recommended by Civil Defense organizations when blood is not available. Obviously it works—it has worked on thousands of Jehovah’s witnesses.”
People often question Jehovah’s witnesses about their public method of preaching.
Student: “Don’t you think that the door-knocking techniques of your members to sell the religion infringe on a person’s privacy?”
Witness: “No more than that of anyone else who calls at the doors, but we realize that it does disturb some people. And if you are among those who are disturbed by it, of course you’d be sympathetic about that situation, but frankly a lot of people tell us how much they appreciate our calls . . . Because you’re not of those people, it doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. I can tell you both sides of the matter. You know only yours, but the fact is that many people thank us for calling. Often they tell us we got them to reading the Bible again. So while it is, at times, something that disturbs people, we do it because we believe it’s commanded in the Scriptures. We believe it’s an effort to show love for fellowman, to benefit him by what we can share with him; and, finally, I think it’s worth while mentioning here, that it’s eminently successful because we reach a lot of people that need to be reached and aren’t reached by other religious groups.”
Sometimes those who question another’s beliefs are guilty of the very objections that they raise, as was the case with another student.
Student: “I’m interested to know what gives you the power or authority to feel that your religion is superior to, say mine, which is Christianity.”
Witness: “Do you feel mine is Christianity?”
Student: “Uh-mmm, no, I don’t.”
Witness: “What gives you the authority or power to feel that yours is superior to mine? You see, I don’t mean to embarrass you here, but . . .
Student: “You did!”
Witness: “This is always the thing with this type of questioning. It’s a two-way street and people who can’t understand why others take their views so seriously have their own [views], and what you have to do is be willing to dignify the other person with respecting the fact that he does take it seriously and then go to the Book which is supposed to have the answer to find out: Now which one of us is looking at this the right way? We have no argument with individuals. . . . We believe judgments are left to God. But we do believe that what the Bible says is true and if it says something about a matter that others believe that is different to what it says, we have to disagree with them.”
A Good Effect
These straightforward, honest answers reflected an understanding for other persons’ points of view. Hence, this Canadian television program helped many to see that there is another side, even when it comes to controversial beliefs such as those of Jehovah’s witnesses. What seems to have impressed viewers most, even among non-Witnesses, was the way that the Witness representative remained calm and maintained Christian dignity even when questioners displayed a measure of hostility. He knew the truth of the wise proverb: “An answer, when mild, turns away rage, but a word causing pain makes anger to come up.”—Prov. 15:1.
Hence, snappy comebacks that attempt to destroy opposers outright are out of place. A Christian desires to help all persons—even those who consider themselves to be opponents—to be attracted to the truth. Thus he conducts himself when under attack so that others incline to recognize that what he has to say is not of his own originality, but solidly founded on Biblical “wisdom from above” because it is “in the first place pure; and then peace-loving, considerate, and open to reason; it is straightforward and sincere.”—Jas. 3:17, New English Bible.
[Picture on page 12]
Should differing views alienate people? A Canadian television broadcast illustrates the value of displaying courtesy and respect for others even though you disagree