Many non-JWs often ask if Jehovah’s Witnesses shun former members of their organization. The answer is yes and no, but mostly yes. A person is shunned if they are disfellowshipped (DF), which is a type of excommunication. This happens when they commit what JWs consider to be a serious sin and are not “repentant.”
A person is also shunned if they are disassociated (DA), which is when that person takes the official step of writing a letter to the organization and stating that they no longer wish to be known as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
This shunning is complete and all-encompassing. While there may be some minimal family interaction, anyone who is an active JW will not speak to you, and may literally turn their back on you when they see you in person. Often DF or DA family members are not invited to family functions, and if active JWs find out that these ones will be at certain events such as weddings, they may choose not to attend. DF and DA former members are typically ignored if they do attend, even at family funerals.
A third group of former Jehovah’s Witnesses are called inactive; these are ones who simply stop associating with Jehovah’s Witnesses and going out in their preaching work. They have not necessarily committed a serious sin and have not taken that official step of disassociating themselves in writing, but have simply faded away. These ones are not officially shunned.
Note what the official website of Jehovah’s Witnesses says about shunning, with my comments:
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.
These would be the inactive ones mentioned earlier. As someone who is inactive, I can tell you that this “reaching out” is very rare, if it happens at all. An inactive person may get a phone call from an elder, but for the most part, other JWs avoid them.
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.
This paragraph would imply that the only reason you can be disfellowshipped is for “breaking the Bible’s moral code” and it uses the word “practice,” as if it’s only repeated behavior that is grounds for disfellowshipping. However, you can be disfellowshipped for many things, including disagreeing with any of the official doctrine of the JWs, which they call apostasy, or for disagreeing with any organizational procedures; this is called “causing division.”
Women who have been victims of rape can also be disfellowshipped if they do not literally scream during the attack, and if elders determine that she did not do enough to resist. They may also decide that she did something they deem as consenting to the attack, such as visiting a bar or going out on a date with a non-JW. She would then be disfellowshipped for “fornication.” See this post.
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.
Interesting that they only mention a married man with children, as he is the head of the house. When a mother or teen is disfellowshipped, their family ties become minimal at best. Older teens are typically asked to leave the home once they’re done with school and are of legal age. Adults whose parents or grandparents are disfellowshipped typically cut off all ties with them, as do siblings.
Disfellowshipped individuals may attend our religious services.
What they don’t tell you is that no one will speak to you at those services. Disfellowshipped persons are to arrive at the last minute and sit in the back, and leave immediately. The only persons who may speak to a DF person are elders, and this is done to find out if they want to take the steps needed to be reinstated, not to socialize.
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.
So there you have it; their goal is to simply make you one of Jehovah’s Witnesses again, not to listen to why you’ve left or reconsider the reasons they’ve disfellowshipped you.
The Hypocrisy of Shunning
Notice that they don’t talk at all about persons who officially disassociate themselves, who are also shunned completely. This last sentence implies that the only reason a person would be shunned is if they committed “improper conduct” and that those who leave are no longer living by “Bible standards.”
However, consider why some JWs have disassociated themselves. A Norwegian man named Bo Juel was molested by an elder from when he was 4 or 5 until he was about 9. This man would not only sexually assault him, but would also beat him and then lock him in a small room in the basement and threaten that if he told anyone, he would die in that room. The man who molested him, who turned out to be molesting other children in his congregation at the same time, was disfellowshipped for a year and then brought right back into the congregation.
Is it any wonder that Bo had doubts about god and Jehovah’s Witnesses in general with this type of lecture? Interestingly, despite his family’s loyalty to this pedophile, the man went on to molest other children, went to jail, was disfellowshipped for a short time and then reinstated and again welcomed with open arms by the congregation. When Bo heard that news, he disassociated himself as a young adult. He is now shunned by his whole family, including his own daughter, while his molester remains in good standing with other JWs. (You can read his story in his book, “The Least of God’s Priorities.”)
Some have disassociated themselves because of having been victims of domestic violence in the religion; I remember one woman in particular who disassociated herself after having been hit by her JW husband and having been told by the elders that she was “obviously not submissive enough.” She did not want anything to do with a religion that would treat her that way, and left. She too is now shunned by her family and her former friends in the religion while her former husband, the abuser, remains in good standing.
Think of the hypocrisy of these situations. These people and many more like them have left because of terrible situations that no one should need to put up with in any religion, and yet Jehovah’s Witnesses state that they are the ones who need to reject “improper conduct.” Jehovah’s Witnesses shun them, as if they are the ones who did something wrong and deserve punishment.
Shun the Victim, Respect the Perpetrator
What is also shameful is that those who leave because of situations like this are shunned, but the perpetrators of these crimes are the ones who remain in good standing. The JW husband who was hitting the woman mentioned above was never disfellowshipped. Elders I know who blamed the women for their abuse have never been censured, and all remain in good standing in their congregations.
The man who molested Bo Juel was put out of the congregation for a measly year; this is just a fraction of the time that he was molesting children, and back then, this was the minimum time you could be disfellowshipped before being brought back. To add insult to his injuries, Bo’s family will talk to this vicious, brutal, sick man, but they won’t talk to him as long as he remains disassociated.
As a matter of fact, Bo has told the story that a few years ago, his beloved grandfather called him out of the blue, but when Bo informed him he had no plans to return to being one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, his grandfather told him flatly, “If we were living 2,000 years ago in Israel, you would have been stoned and I would have thrown the first stone at you.”
Do JWs not see the hypocrisy in all of this? They don’t see that there is something wrong with pedophiles and wife beaters and elders who have endorsed domestic violence still being in the organization, but ones who have been molested or abused are shunned for leaving? That is the real truth about Jehovah’s Witnesses shunning former members.
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