The Secret to Dealing with Missionaries

PZ links to a video of a couple of guys dressing like missionaries and knocking on doors for atheism in Salt Lake City. Like most ambush comedy, the concept is better than the execution-- in particular, there's an opening rant about Mormons that goes on way too long. There's some moderately clever stuff, but it's pretty typical of the genre.

I've never quite understood the level of antipathy that the door-knockers draw. It's not that I've never been visited by them, but rather that I've never had a problem with them. When I was in grad school, the Jehovah's Witnesses used to come around at least a couple of times a year, and they were always very polite. They'd ask if they could talk to me about Jesus, I'd say "Not right now, thanks," and they'd leave a pamphlet and go away.

I've had more trouble getting rid of the earnest college kids that NYPIRG sends out to hit people up for money. I've never had a missionary be as pushy as the environmentalists we get around here.

I've only dealt with them a half-dozen times, though, because it turns out there's a foolproof method for getting rid of Jehovah's Witnesses. I can testify that the method works, because one of my housemates used it, and we never got another visit while I was there (another 2-3 years). The trick is simple:

Tell them you're a Mormon.

One of the parade of different people who lived in my house was, in fact, a Mormon, and one day he was the guy who answered the door when the Jehovah's Witnesses came calling. I didn't hear the conversation, but it was short, and the missionaries stalked off without leaving a pamphlet behind.

He explained that the two groups absolutely detest each other, and won't visit members of the other church. So, if you tell the Jehovah's Witnesses that you're a Mormon, they'll leave and won't come back, and if you tell the Mormons you're a Jehovah's Witness, you won't see them any more, either. (You probably want to use the correct names for the relevant churches, by the way...) You just need to make sure you correctly identify which sort of door-knocker you're dealing with....

So, if you deeply resent people knocking on your door in the morning and asking to talk about Jesus, now you know what to do. And knowing is half the battle.


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Ah, this is similar to my old strategy, developed after some trial and error. I'd simply tell them I am muslim, and would love to talk about Allah and his prophet Mohammed... Somehow telling them I'm Jewish only seemed to increase their enthusiaism.

In Judaism there is something far more annoying. Tradition requires having 10 men for prayer (you guessed it, women don't count). This results in the infinitely sticky "we only have 9" strategy, practiced for example in all major airports. Really, sufficient number of such encounters seal your fate as an atheist, there is no choice involved.

One must absolutely keep David O. McKay's The Book of Mormon with color illustations hard by the front door. Any hind gut fermenting religious wombat who invades get hit with the plate facing page 397. Religion that features Christ with a plasma stardrive blasting out his arse has my sympathies. I very much also like its golden statue cover featuring the inventor of the Yard of Beer.

If Mormons knock we grab a horrific Halloween mask. The neighbor had great success answering the door nekked. OTOH, exactly prophesying Columbus' discovery of the New World is a pretty good trick. OTOH, the book was written in 1830.

"Lord, render my enemies ridiculous."

So why do the Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses hate each other? Simple evangelistic rivalry?

By Charles Odell (not verified) on 21 Nov 2006 #permalink

My irritation at odorknockers, and religious doorknockers in particualr, is multi-pronged.

First, knocking on a door conveys, to me, a much greater sense of urgency and importance. I am much less inclined to ignroe someone knocking on my door than someone calling me on the phone, which in turn conveys more urgency than an e-mail.

Perhaps not coincidentally, there's an inverse scale of how much information I'm giving away at the same time. Someone knocking on my door sees the piles of books I might have on my floor, for instance. Someone on the phone will know if they've just woken me up by the tone of my voice. E-mail gives no such thing away. (And google sidebar ads are even lower impact, which is why they generate no ill-will at all.)

So coming to my door-- whether you're selling me religion or cornflakes-- is much more aggressive and intrusive. It immediately puts me on the defensive, and since I don't like being on the defensive and I've got a home court advantage, it ends badly for the salesman every time.

Second, in my expereince, the religious salesmen always tended to come around at some ungodly hour of the morning on a weekend, which just makes it even worse.

And third, I just don't like being preached at.

By John Novak (not verified) on 21 Nov 2006 #permalink

It isn't that Mormons and JWs hate each other, but that they recognize the high average quality of the other religions members. It is my experience that a relatively high percentage of both LDS and JWs are fairly devoted to their religion and fairly knowlegable about their beliefs. OTOH, members of other religions are more often only Easter and Christmas time participants. Hence, the reason that telling one group that you're a member of the other is so effective is that you're telling them that it'll just be a waste of time. (Somehow, this may be even more effective than outright telling them, "This will just be a waste of time.")

This thread and this one from have some interesting anecdotes about proselytizers (check out, e.g., Aron-Ra's pagan feast preparations, or Sandusty's rather aggressive responses).

I've never gotten any door-to-door missionaries myself. My physics teacher in high school said that in college he was awoken very early in the morning by a pair of well-dressed Mormons. He was so annoyed (being largely nocturnal) that he soaked them with his water gun (a practice he continued in the classroom). Then he felt bad and invited them in for a nice chat.

By Ambitwistor (not verified) on 21 Nov 2006 #permalink

I usually just start stripping, telling them I am about to get naked. Which, when you're a bearded, overweight geek, is not something people in general want to watch.

I have the anti-story:

A friend and I were crossing campus and got way-laid by a Hare Krishna. The guy goes into his pitch, and my pal cut him off with

"Sorry, but I'm a follower of the Black Raven."

The Hare Krishna was thrown completely off his stride - "Really?!".

We got the sense that he was absolutely thrilled to hear of a cult even further out there, and would have gladly stopped to listen to OUR pitch.

If we had had a moment to think up a theology to go with the name, I think my pal would have made his very first convert, right then and there.

By Bob Oldendorf (not verified) on 21 Nov 2006 #permalink


The reason the watchtower corporation orders their Jehovah's witnesses members to intrude door to door is because in the beginning their leader Joseph Rutherford (who himself never went door to door) knew that this cold-calling tactic would get them recognition and "persecution" as pesky.

If they can get "persecuted" by picking fights then he can say they are 'persecuted for Jesus'.

It's all a SCAM~Danny Haszard

My husband and I live in a U-shaped apartment building. There are three main entrances around a courtyard on the inside of the U. Each of those entrances has six door buzzers, and a very loud speaker to allow guests to talk to whoever is standing outside. Our bedroom window also faces out towards this courtyard. When the missionaries come (every Sunday before noon, lately), we are not only rudely awakened by our buzzer, but we are kept awake for half an hour as they ring every other buzzer around the courtyard, announce themselves, and get told off by each resident in turn.

Thanks to the volume of the speakers, we get to hear both sides of the conversations. Never once have the missionaries been favourably received by anyone here. What a pain in the ass. At least it's not all bad. There are a number of actors living in this building, and they usually tell the missionaries off in an entertaining and dramatic fashion.

I've heard more than one five minute long improvised monologue... I almost wish the speakers were louder, sometimes. One person claimed to worship Satan, and told the missionaries exactly what they were going to do to them. One claimed that missionaries somehow caused her mother's death, and wound up sobbing. Another chastised them for a full fifteen minutes, ranting through their speaker even though the missionaries had moved on to other doors.

In our apartment, though... my husband usually reaches the buzzer before me, and just says "no, thanks". Boring!

One of the funnier ways to repel missionaries I've ever heard goes like this (you have to do it with a big, sincere, and just slightly bent smile):

"Oh, come on in!!! You must be the sacrifices for today's ritual..."

Another good one is to have a Doctor of Divinity handy to ask the missionaries dissertation-level questions. Of course, this only works if you know a nearby DD.

I once scared a couple of Mormons away by answering the door in my bathrobe (I was literally right out of the shower, wet crazy hair and all), looking somewhat frantic, and saying "Now would not be a good time."

By Captain C (not verified) on 22 Nov 2006 #permalink

Jehovah's witnesses do not hate Mormons, so this information is inaccurate. A polite no thank you I am not interested will suffice if you don't want to hear their important messages at your door. Witnesses are not out to force religion. They are just trying to get you to read your bible and learn from it. This is what this world needs now more than ever. Because false religion has stained the word of God so much, it is hard to get a person to read the bible and see it for what it truthfully is, so we are persistent in trying. God wants no one to be forced in trying to serve him, he just wants to give everyone a chance to serve him with their own free will. There are millions of people according to the bible who will loose their lives. So sifting through those millions is tedious work. So trust me a simple I'm not interested will do. In fact if you tell them to put you on their never come back list, they won't ever come back to you. However, I must say every once in a while they will check to see if you have moved so as to give witness to the next tenant.
Usually one person will speak for the whole house without thinking when we knock on the door. We do have freedom of religion in this country. That person doesn't have the right to make up someone else's mind about whether they want to serve God or not, just their own. So we also will try to reach the other household members for their choice. A lot of people resort to lying when we knock at the door. I really don't understand that because it is unnecessary. Maybe you do have a conscience about God and are just afraid to face it? I don't know, but when I knock on a door I am looking for a person who truly wants to learn the bible because I am their with the understanding that millions will reject God's word as the bible states. Those ones will loose their lives in the end. So creative lying is useless to me.
I was previously one of those who hid and lied. I'm glad I took the time to really let Jehovah's Witnesses help me read the bible. I learned a great deal and I am very grateful. I am ashamed of how I treated them formerly. Ask one of Jehovah's Witness who knock at your door for accurate information. There is so many inaccuracies out their from people who just make things up. Because we don't hate Mormons, this is inaccurate information. Personally I will gladly show someone of Mormon faith bible truths if I encounter one at the door.
We wake people up on Sat Mornings only because it is when most people are home. The general public is mostly at work or are at school during the week. It is that simple. We do door to door work in imitation of Jesus. That is how he reached people. This is taught in the bible that false religion does not disclose.
A lot of information is very simple if you get your information strictly from one of JW. You wouldn't go to a plumber for your medical care. So ask one for accurate information. So do yourself a favor and just tell them you are simply not interested. Tell them to take you off your their list because you don't ever want to know bible truths and they will never come back, or you have the choice of listening and be grateful like I was.

By Gwen Martin (not verified) on 23 Nov 2006 #permalink

"The reason the watchtower corporation orders their Jehovah's witnesses members to intrude door to door is because in the beginning their leader Joseph Rutherford (who himself never went door to door) knew that this cold-calling tactic would get them recognition and "persecution" as pesky."

Ah, so that's why Jehova's Witnesses in Nazi Germany refused military service and ended up in Auschwitz in significant numbers?

By Roman Werpachowski (not verified) on 24 Nov 2006 #permalink