Steve Maglione knows what it's like to proselytize for his church, the Jehovah's Witness. Sometimes, the 37-year-old Chattanooga, Tenn., man says, "obnoxious people get angry and slam the door in our faces."
Nonetheless, Maglione joined 20,000 other Witnesses yesterday to visit 330,000 Washington-area homes to give them invitations to the church's convention now being held at Robert F. Kennedy Stadium.
Maglione and his wife, Gayle, said they live on a small amount of money from his part-time job customizing cars so they can spend most of their time witnessing for the church.
"They'll fight with you and might even get violent with you," Maglione said of some people he has visited elsewhere. "But we do this because we love Jehovah (God)," Gayle Maglione said.
"Our reward for doing this is everlasting life," interrupted Vivian Warren, 58, who was also canvassing with the Magliones along Massachusetts Ave. SE. "He commands us to go door-to-door to talk to people. He says if you do this you will have everlasting life."
"We use kindness and charm," explained her husband, Frank Warren, "and sometimes a little heat to shake them up, and sometimes they listen to us."
Many of the houses the Magliones and Warrens canvassed appeared to have no one at home. Those who came to the door were polite, often cheerful. The most enthusiastic response came from Jack Byers, 68, who was sunning himself on his porch as the group approached. "I used to have a friend who belongs to them," Byers said. "I just might take a walk down there" (to the stadium).
One-to-one doorway preaching is the main Witnesses attract converts. Called "fied service" this practice is estimated to add 100,000 people to the Bible study rolls each year, the first step toward becoming baptized to the faith, according to the church.
"We know most of them won't listen to us," said Warren, who has been a virtual nomad with his wife, spreading the word across the country for 10 years and living through the kindness of other Witnesses.
"As long as we tell them, we have done what God asked. Then, if people ignore what we call 'the truth' their blood is on their own hands," Warren said.
The "truth" is a collection of beliefs culled from the Bible studies of a Pottsburgh group headed by the faith's founder, Charles Taze Russell, in the 1870s. Jehovah's Witnesses now number 2.3 millions worldwide and 554,000 in the United States, according to the church.
The words "Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven" from the Lord's Prauers are part of what is used by Witnesses to illustrate their belief that Christ is making a kingdom on earth instead of heaven.
The kingdom will be complete, they say, after the last great war on earth, Armageddon, when a paradise will be established. The survivors who inherit the paradise will be those who have chosen to be Jehovah's Witnesses.
"People will be loving and caring good Christians," Vivian Warren said. "It will be like a heaven on earth. There will be no man-made governments, and Christ will rule," Warren said.
Witnesses are politically neutral and don't vote. "We respect the laws in the countries we live in, but we are not part of them, sort of like ambassadors from foreing lands are in this country," explained Gene Owens of Virginia Beach.
During the Vietnam war young Witnesses men were imprisoned for refusing to be drafted. Owens said that Witness children's refusal to pledge allegiance to the flag was upheld by the Supreme Court. "We cannot pledge allegiance to an inanimate object or a secular state since our allegiance is to Jehovah. We cannot fight in man's wars because we might be fighting our members . . . for instance, in Russia," he said.