Jehovah’s Witnesses shun former members, as brought out in this post. This shunning is complete and all-encompassing, and includes those who are disfellowshipped (excommunicated) or disassociated (officially leaving the organization on their own).
While shunning former members is extreme, what is also disturbing is that many within the congregation are also kept at arm’s length by others, and shunned to a certain extent. This is done when someone does something that others don’t agree with, or when they do something that is considered somewhat “weak.” This practice of near-shunning is taught to all members of the congregation, including teenagers, who are encouraged to avoid other teens who are “questionable” in their behavior.
In all fairness, I agree that teens need to be mindful of their friends, and if I had a child, I would never allow that child to be friends with someone who drinks, does drugs, etc. However, this encouragement toward shunning in the congregation doesn’t involve just these extreme behaviors, and it actually teaches a very dangerous thought process to teens.
Teaching Teenagers to Shun Others
To see what I mean, look at the following information and illustrations from the July 15, 2012, study edition of the Watchtower:
These pictures seem to include the same two young men; I’m going to call the blonde Stephen, and the dark-haired teen Thomas.
Note the top picture. Stephen may be a bit flirty with a girl at school, and he shouldn’t be drinking with other teens, but consider the two pictures on the left. The fact that he’s somewhat bored with yet another Watchtower article and long meeting at the Kingdom Hall is reason to shun him? Are studies about people who lived thousands of years ago and repeated lectures about what you’re doing wrong supposed to constantly enthrall teenagers?
Note the second picture, to the lower left. Stephen is playing video games, and there is shooting involved. I’m not crazy about violent entertainment for kids, but the game seems to have some type of robot or alien. Do we not recognize the difference between fantasy games involving robots and aliens, versus graphic games involving the murder of other people?
Move to the upper left, where Stephen is just being friendly to kids after school. They’re fist-bumping, not selling drugs, and the chubby kid has a skateboard, not a quart of vodka. Stephen isn’t at their house, but is just catching up after class. Being friendly with other kids is now questionable?
Let’s move on to the middle picture, of Stephen with a female friend. Maybe this is supposed to be a depiction of him dating a young girl who is not one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, but if they were dating, I think she would be a lot closer to him. Chances are these are just two friends, and it looks like they’re getting an innocent “selfie” for the Facebook page. Having female friends is now wrong?
The picture that I’m most interested in is the one in the middle, where Stephen is showing Thomas something on his cell phone. This picture is very telling, because it appears that they are out in the preaching work, as Stephen has his bag slung over one shoulder.
Since Stephen is out in their preaching work, he’s obviously still an active, faithful member of the congregation. Consider what this means. The preaching work is voluntary and no one gets paid for their time; you even use your own car and gas. Stephen is out in this work probably on a weekend, which he could be spending sleeping in, or watching cartoons. Instead, he’s dressed up in uncomfortable clothes and is pounding the pavement, getting yelled at and having doors slammed in his face from people who don’t appreciate being dragged out of bed on an early Saturday morning.
If Stephen is a faithful member of the congregation this also means he’s given up all holidays and birthdays and just about all celebrations of every sort. He’s the odd man out at school when the kids celebrate Valentine’s Day, Easter, Halloween, Christmas, and their birthdays. He gets to see other kids come back after Christmas vacation with cool new clothes and gadgets, while he gets nothing.
Being a faithful member of the congregation also means risking your life in emergency situations, as Jehovah’s Witnesses do not take whole blood transfusions. Jehovah’s Witnesses also do not allow sex before marriage, masturbation, or the viewing of pornography, so while Stephen may be a bit flirty with a girl at school in the top pic, if he’s still in the congregation, he hasn’t gotten past the flirtation part. This, of course, is a very difficult situation for teens, as we know they are just one big hormone during these years.
We also note from the top picture that Stephen actually does attend the meetings of Jehovah’s Witnesses, as required. He may be distracted, but he’s still there! Jehovah’s Witnesses have a two-hour Sunday meeting, then another two-hour meeting one weeknight, plus their Saturday morning preaching, plus three conventions throughout the year. Up until just a few years ago, there was also another one-hour meeting during the week. All of these require dressing up and studying the information beforehand. Jehovah’s Witnesses are also encouraged to have a separate family study on top of all these meetings during the week.
Because Stephen doesn’t approach all this studying and attendance with enthusiasm each and every time, this is a problem? He dresses up, he goes, he has his study materials; he could be home, watching TV or working, or just avoiding all that drudgery, but instead, he chooses to attend those meetings and go out in their preaching work.
Yet, despite all that faithfulness, look at Thomas and his reaction to Stephen. He literally puts his hand up and is walking away from him. Stephen is at their meetings, is out in their preaching work, has apparently been faithful about all the big issues, and has not done anything worthy of being disfellowshipped; even so, Thomas wants nothing to do with him, simply because he’s made choices that Thomas doesn’t agree with.
Lest you think I’m reading too much into these illustrations, note what the study articles themselves had to say, in paragraphs 11 and 12 (bold added for emphasis):
“I have not sat with men of untruth; and with those who hide what they are I do not come in.” (Ps. 26:4) … “Bad associations spoil useful habits.”—1 Cor. 15:33. What valuable lessons can we learn from those texts? (1) Jehovah wants us to be selective about our associates. He wants to protect us morally and spiritually. (2) We are influenced for good or for bad by the people with whom we associate…
I agree that our associates influence us, but I would also wonder:
1) If Stephen is showing someone a picture on his cell phone, he’s obviously not one of “those who hide what they are.” If he was committing serious sins, he wouldn’t be advertising it with pictures on his phone!
2) If you read 1 Corinthians about “bad association,” you see Paul is talking about ones who were preaching a different, erroneous doctrine. Paul wasn’t talking about ones who simply make other choices in their personal life in terms of entertainment and free time.
Shunned and Isolated
The very disturbing part about shunning ones in the congregation is that Jehovah’s Witnesses are not supposed to have friends outside of the congregation, even avoiding extracurricular activities at school (sports, music, drama), as this would mean association with non-JWs. The only friends they’re allowed are those in the congregation.
How are children and teens supposed to have any friends if other congregation members shun them for anything and everything, even perceived slights, such as not being overly attentive at their meetings, or for being nice to kids at school? Look at the top illustration and notice the pictures on the left, of Stephen relaxing at his desk while Thomas studies. How does Thomas know the extent of Stephen’s studying? Does Stephen now need to answer to Thomas, and give him an accounting of all his time and activities, before Thomas decides if he’s worthy of association?
Arrogance Is a Sin Too
Interesting to note is that, in my decades as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, I knew many people just like Thomas, zealous and self-righteous and enthralled with everything, looking down their noses at everyone who wasn’t doing as much as them. Many of them are now disfellowshipped or have fallen away, whereas other average, run-of-the-mill Jehovah’s Witnesses are still in, still faithful, still trudging along.
As I said before, I wouldn’t want my teen to associate with those who are drinking or doing drugs or anything else that is very hurtful and dangerous. However, I also wouldn’t want to teach my child to be self-righteous, judgmental, arrogant, unbalanced, and downright dismissive of others, and especially over things that are none of their business to begin with. Those things are just as hurtful, and in my humble opinion, just as sinful.
Might we consider if developing this practice of shunning in the congregation is not protecting you from anything, but instead is just making you self-righteous and, in turn, sinful in your own way?
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