Do Jehovah’s Witnesses Shun Former Members of Their Religion?

How do Jehovah’s Witnesses view shunning?

Executive Summary

Yes, as part of a policy they call a “loving provision” Jehovah’s Witnesses shun members who were once baptized and have since been disfellowshipped or who have decided to move on.

The information provided on JW.org as an answer to the above question is inaccurate and misleading, employing different logical fallacies to hide the extent of the Jehovah’s Witnesses shunning policy.

Read the in-depth analysis

Do Jehovah’s Witnesses Shun Former Members of Their Religion?

This is what JW.org says: http://www.jw.org/en/jehovahs-witnesses/faq/shunning/

JW.org says:

Those who were baptized as Jehovah’s Witnesses but no longer preach to others, perhaps even drifting away from association with fellow believers, are not shunned. In fact, we reach out to them and try to rekindle their spiritual interest.

JW.org begins this FAQ with a neat little rhetorical device known as the strawman fallacy. Critical readers will have spotted it straight away: JW.org sets out to answer a question we never posed. The question was not Do Jehovah’s Witnesses shun members who have drifted away from association with fellow believers?. Rather, we wanted to know: Do Jehovah’s Witnesses Shun Former Members of Their Religion? Right from the word go, JW.org has failed to answer the question about Jehovah’s Witnesses shunning policy.

JW.org says:

We do not automatically disfellowship someone who commits a serious sin. If, however, a baptized Witness makes a practice of breaking the Bible’s moral code and does not repent, he or she will be shunned or disfellowshipped. The Bible clearly states: “Remove the wicked man from among yourselves.”—1 Corinthians 5:13.

The first sentence is correct. Jehovah’s Witnesses do not “automatically disfellowship”, a shunning policy JW.org calls a “loving provision”. Members who are deemed guilty of a “serious wrongdoing” will first face a “judicial committee”. This is what the confidential, eyes only Elder’s manual Shepherd the Flock of God says about “judicial committees”:

Elders should act promptly when they receive a report of serious wrongdoing so as to safeguard the congregation and provide assistance to the wrongdoer. Neglecting to care for such matters can hinder the flow of Jehovah’s holy spirit to the con- gregation. Elders must first assess whether the alleged wrongdoing, if established, is serious enough to require a judicial committee. (Page 58)

What wrongdoing warrants a judicial committee? This is where the PR stance on JW.org is misleading. Shunning is not only employed when a member breaks the Bible’s moral code. The Elder’s manual Shepherd the Flock of God lists several wrongdoings worthy of shunning:

Manslaughter, Attempted Suicide, Porneia (immoral use of the genitals, whether in a natural or in a perverted way, with lewd intent), brazen or loose conduct (association with disfellowshiped nonrelatives, Child sexual abuse, Continuing to date or pursue a romantic relationship with a person though not legally or scripturally free to marry), Evidence that the accused stayed all night in the same house with a person of the opposite sex or in the same house with a know homosexual under improper circumstances, Gross uncleanness, uncleanness with greediness, Passion-arousing heavy petting or caressing of breasts on numerous occasions, A practice of engaging in immoral conversations by telephone, in internet chat rooms, or through similar electronic means, An entrenched practice of viewing, perhaps for years, abhorrent forms of pornography that is sexually degrading, Misuse of tobacco, Extreme physical uncleanness, Misuse of addictive drugs, Apostasy (Celebrating false religious holidays, Participation in interfaith activities, Deliberately spreading teachings contrary to Bible truth as taught by Jehovah’s Witnesses, Causing divisions and promoting sects, Continuing in employment that makes one an accomplice to or a promotor of false worship, Spiritism, Idolatry), Drunkenness, Gluttony, Stealing, Thievery, Deliberate, malicious lying; bearing false witness, Fraud, slander, Reviling, Obscene speech, Greed–gambling, extortion, Adament refusal to provide materially for one’s own family, leaving wife and children destitute when having the means to provide, Fits of Anger, violence, professional boxing (taken from Shepherd the Flock of God, the secret manual for Jehovah’s Witness elders).

The last time we checked, “Deliberately spreading teachings contrary to Bible truth as taught by Jehovah’s Witnesses” was not a question of morals. Neither was professional boxing. So the sentence in question should really read: “If a baptized Witness makes a practice of breaking the rules laid out by Jehovah’s Witnesses and does not repent, he or she will be shunned or disfellowshipped.”

The following Watchtower Quote gives us some insight into how this shunning could look like:

“More than that, we want to hate those who willfully show themselves haters of Jehovah, haters of what is good. … We hate them, not in the sense of wanting to do them harm or wishing them harm but in the sense of avoiding them as we would poison or a poisonous snake, for they can poison us spiritually.” (The Watchtower, June 15, 1980, page 8)

“Godly hate is a powerful protection against wrongdoing… Are we doing that? …Apostates are included among those who show their hatred of Jehovah by revolting against him. Apostasy is, in reality, a rebellion against Jehovah. …Others claim to believe the Bible, but they reject Jehovah’s organization and actively try to hinder its work. …a Christian must hate (in the Biblical sense of the word) those who have inseparably attached themselves to the badness.” (The Watchtower, October 1, 1993, page 19, both via)

A loving provision, indeed.

JW.org says:

What of a man who is disfellowshipped but whose wife and children are still Jehovah’s Witnesses? The religious ties he had with his family change, but blood ties remain. The marriage relationship and normal family affections and dealings continue.

Again the strawman argument. That was not the question. But since it’s there, let us see, what Jehovah’s Witnesses really have to say about the situation in question. One article we found makes it clear that Jehovah’s Witnesses would view children of a disfellowshipped member as being orphans:

Zephaniah’s interest in Josiah illustrates for us Jehovah’s interest in needy, vulnerable young ones, such as children whose parent may have been disfellowshipped. Hosea declared: “By [God] a fatherless boy is shown mercy.” (Hosea 14:3) Do you know of any other “fatherless” boys and girls in need of spiritual and practical mentoring? They might be spiritual orphans, children of single-parent families, or young ones who serve Jehovah without the support of their family. Quite often, the extent to which such ones stay close to the congregation and go on to mature spiritually is affected by the presence or absence of a spiritual mentor. Many “a fatherless boy” has blossomed into a balanced, spiritual adult after being shown loving interest by mature Christians in the congregation. (Jehovah’s Day, Chapter 11, Highlight by us)

It is pretty obvious from this quote that children of disfellowshipped members are fair game to JW.org who are practically imploring faithful members to take care of these poor “spiritual orphans”. It is debatable whether “normal family affections” would continue for good under these circumstances as this kind of behavior does nothing to strengthen the bonds between a father and his children.

But what about family members in general who are disfellowshipped? We find no information about this situation in the FAQ. When you dig deeper into JW.org literature, though, you very soon find out why JW.org chose this particular strawman argument. We will let JW.org speak through quotes taken from their Watchtower library:

Today, Jehovah does not immediately execute those who violate his laws. He lovingly gives them an opportunity to repent from their unrighteous works. How would Jehovah feel, though, if the parents of an unrepentant wrongdoer kept putting Him to the test by having unnecessary association with their disfellowshipped son or daughter? (The Watchtower, July 15, 2011)

While caring for necessary family matters may require some contact with the disfellowshipped person, a Christian parent should strive to avoid needless association. (The Watchtower, January 15, 2007)

Your precious family member needs to know that you are determined to love Jehovah even more than you love your family. […] Do not try to find reasons to go against his command about disfellowshipping. We should not look for reasons to spend time with a disfellowshipped family member or have a relationship with him through e-mail. (The Watchtower, January 15, 2013)

Disfellowshipping is another type of discipline from Jehovah. It protects the congregation from a bad influence and can play a role in the sinner’s recovery. (1 Cor. 5:6, 7, 11) Robert was disfellowshipped for nearly 16 years, during which time his parents and siblings firmly and loyally applied the direction in God’s Word to quit mixing in company with wrongdoers, not even greeting such ones. Robert has been reinstated for some years now and is progressing well spiritually. When asked what moved him to return to Jehovah and His people after such a long time, he replied that the stand that his family took affected him. “Had my family associated with me even a little, say to check up on me, that small dose of association would have satisfied me and likely not allowed my desire for association to be a motivating factor to return to God.” (The Watchtower, June 15, 2013)

In other cases, the disfellowshipped relative may be living outside the immediate family circle and home. Although there might be a need for limited contact on some rare occasion to care for a necessary family matter, any such contact should be kept to a minimum. Loyal Christian family members do not look for excuses to have dealings with a disfellowshipped relative not living at home. (Keep yourself in God’s Love)

All in the congregation can show principled love by avoiding contact and conversation with the disfellowshipped person. […] Family members can show love for the congregation and the erring one by respecting the disfellowshipping decision. […] Likewise, disfellowshipped ones who are no longer members of the Christian congregation—their spiritual family—may come to realize what they have lost. The bitter fruits of their sinful course, together with the memories of happier days when they enjoyed a good relationship with Jehovah and his people, could bring them to their senses. […] “In the long run, despite the pain, it brings good results. Had I been tolerant of my son’s bad conduct, he would never have recovered.” (The Watchtower, April 2015)

We need to give thought to these questions: ‘Would I choose to associate regularly with someone who has been disfellowshipped or who has disassociated himself from the Christian congregation? What if that one is a close relative who no longer lives at home?’ […] One individual who was disfellowshipped and was later reinstated wrote: “I am happy that Jehovah loves his people enough to see that his organization is kept clean. What may seem harsh to outsiders is both necessary and really a loving thing to do.” Do you think that this person would have been helped to come to such a conclusion had members of the congregation, including her family, maintained regular contact with her while she was disfellowshipped? Our supporting the Scriptural arrangement of disfellowshipping gives evidence that we love righteousness and recognize Jehovah’s right to set standards of conduct. (The Watchtower, February 15, 2011)

This stance contradicts everything JW.org write in an Awake! magazine from 2009:

No one should be forced to worship in a way that he finds unacceptable or be made to choose between his beliefs and his family. (Awake!, July 2009, Highlights by us)

After having read the above quotes, do you come to the conclusion that Jehovah’s Witnesses do not make people ‘choose between their beliefs and their family’? In another paragraph of the same article, we read in a critical context:

To change your religion is viewed as rejecting your identity and disrespecting your family.

Could this be about an alleged apostate witness or even “a man who is disfellowshipped but whose wife and children are still Jehovah’s Witnesses?” No. The quote is from a first-hand experience of a Sikh lady who became a Jehovah’s Witness. The whole article slams other religions for making conversion hell. Do Jehovah’s Witnesses live up to the standard set out in the Awake 2009 article? If you are not sure, reread the above quotes.

JW.org says:

Disfellowshipped individuals may attend our religious services. If they wish, they may also receive spiritual counsel from congregation elders. The goal is to help each individual once more to qualify to be one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Disfellowshipped people who reject improper conduct and demonstrate a sincere desire to live by the Bible’s standards are always welcome to become members of the congregation again.

This paragraph is fairly accurate. What we find interesting, is what JW.org does not say. Namely: The hope Jehovah’s Witnesses entertain that the disfellowshipped individual will return because he was shunned. In case you missed it in the above quotes: The endgame of Jehovah’s Witness shunning policy is to isolate the wrongdoer socially and emotionally blackmail them into returning to Jehovah’s Witnesses. These quotes sum it up pretty well:

By cutting off contact with the disfellowshipped or disassociated one, you are showing that you hate the attitudes and actions that led to that outcome. However, you are also showing that you love the wrongdoer enough to do what is best for him or her. Your loyalty to Jehovah may increase the likelihood that the disciplined one will repent and return to Jehovah. (The Watchtower, February 15, 2011)

Many who were once disfellowshipped now freely admit that the firm stand taken by their friends and family members helped them come to their senses. In recommending the reinstatement of one young woman, the elders wrote that she had cleaned up her life “partly because of her fleshly brother’s respect for the disfellowshipping arrangement.” She said that “his faithful adherence to Scriptural guidelines helped her to want to return.” What conclusion should we draw? That we need to fight against the tendency of our imperfect hearts to rebel against Scriptural counsel. We must be absolutely convinced that God’s way of dealing with our problems is always best. (The Watchtower, July 15, 2011)

That’s up for debate. We doubt it.

In conclusion: What do you think? Is the answer to the question provided on JW.org accurate?


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