When Paul arrived in Rome to plead his legal case before Caesar, he first met with Jewish leaders. Probably you’ve heard about me, he said. I’ve been in the news back home [his presence in Jerusalem’s temple had sparked a riot]……
the Jews from Asia on beholding him in the temple began to throw all the crowd into confusion, and they laid their hands upon him, crying out: “Men of Israel, help! This is the man that teaches everybody everywhere against the people and the Law and this place and, what is more, he even brought Greeks into the temple and has defiled this holy place.”…..And the whole city was set in an uproar, and a running together of the people occurred; and they laid hold of Paul and dragged him outside the temple. And immediately the doors were closed. And while they were seeking to kill him, information came up to the commander of the band that all Jerusalem was in confusion; and he at once took soldiers and army officers and ran down to them. Acts 21:27-32
….I’m also under arrest, which might cause you concern. So I thought I’d stop by and explain myself and answer any questions you may have.
But Rome is a long ways from Jerusalem. The Jews there hadn’t heard a thing about Paul. They sure knew about what he represented, though:
They said to him: “Neither have we received letters concerning you from Judea, nor has anyone of the brothers that has arrived reported or spoken anything wicked about you. But we think it proper to hear from you what your thoughts are, for truly as regards this sect it is known to us that everywhere it is spoken against." Acts 28:21-22
That’s about the best Jehovah’s Witnesses can hope for today. It’s a given that the Christian faith will be “everywhere spoken against,” but as for us personally, no letters will have been received nor does anyone have anything wicked to say about us [ideally]. When you strive to apply Bible principles in your life, as JWs do, over time it makes you a better person.
However, people don’t all have the same start in life. Health varies, physical and mental. So does inherited disposition. Some folk are smarter than others. Or calmer. Or sturdier. How you were brought up as a kid may have helped or handicapped you. So you have to look at people in terms of how far they’ve come, not just where they are now.
It’s difficult to quantify the term “oddball” or determine just how pejorative the word should be. Worldwide, prisons are loaded up with murderous and conniving thugs, yet most of them would not be categorized as “oddballs.” Violence and slickness are enshrined values today…..these hapless jailbirds went too far, that’s all, they stepped over the line, but the direction itself is not out of harmony with contemporary values. In contrast, we may have some “oddballs,” yet they wouldn’t harm a fly.
I’ve even heard the charge made that Jehovah’s Witnesses suffer mental illness in greater proportion than general society. But I’m not sure how accurate that is. Isn’t it just a charge that soreheads make who don’t like us ("everywhere spoken against," like they said to Paul)? Drive by the psych ward….it's always full....they’re not ALL our people in there. Usually no one at all, occasionally one or two. Besides, an astounding percentage of Americans today are on some sort of prescribed antidepression or mood-altering medication. Are they all mentally ill, or have many just been sold a bill of goods by pharmaceutical companies? Moreover, the world today suffers global warming, terrorism, family breakup, moral disintegration, economic abyss, and so forth. Perhaps the one who readily adjusts to these evils is the one with true mental illness! Isn’t there something wrong with a person who can readily take this stuff in stride, as if it were the most normal thing in the world?
A truly close-knit organization will seem to have more oddballs then one in which people stay at arm’s length. It’s for the same reason that our own extended family members seem odder than people in general. They’re not, of course [usually], it’s just that we know them better. One way to think you’re living amidst cool people is to not get to know them very well.
But I will grant one point. Christ’s message is of love and hospitality. The demeanor of the Christian congregation reflects that attitude. You can expect troubled persons to be drawn to such an environment. After all, how many groups will readily take them into their midsts? But among Christians they find a welcoming home and, over time, become less odd (though not always).
In fact, perhaps we should make that a test for true Christianity. For any group that claims to follow Christ, we should insist on seeing their oddballs. If they don’t have any....say, if all their people are cool, or if their oddballs are not of truly high calibre, well then I guess that group can’t be true Christians, can they? Odd as it may seem, you have to have oddballs if you're really following Christ.