Jehovah’s Witnesses shun former members if they have been disfellowshipped (excommunicated) or disassociated (when they officially leave the organization). This shunning is all-encompassing and complete; even family members talk to these ones only when absolutely necessary. Other Jehovah’s Witnesses will sometimes literally turn their backs on someone who is disfellowshipped or disassociated.
Jehovah’s Witnesses defend this practice by saying that they need to keep the congregation “clean,” and that they are being loyal to Jehovah. Note, however, that they are actually misapplying scripture, and often using outright lies to maintain this practice.
Consider this discourse, presented at a 2013 summer convention of Jehovah’s Witnesses, telling the audience to continue with this shunning practice.
First he quotes Matthew 10:34,35. The scripture says:
“Do not think I came to bring peace to the earth; I came to bring, not peace, but a sword. For I came to cause division, with a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.”
The scripture certainly seems like it endorses the idea of families being divided, and even outright hurtful to one another, but if you back up and read verses 32 and 33, you see that these scriptures are addressing ones who would accept Jesus versus disowning him.
During the time these scriptures were written, the nation of Israel was looking for their messiah, but not all of them accepted that messiah to be Jesus. These scriptures go on to say that “a man’s enemies will be persons of his own household,” and said that if someone had more affection for family than for him (Jesus), then they wouldn’t be worthy of him.
The message is, there would be persons in the household who would become enemies of ones who accepted Jesus, and if a new Christian allowed that pressure to cause them to disown Jesus, then they were not worthy of him. The scriptures do not say that a Christian should shun and make an enemy out of those who do not follow their beliefs. As a matter of fact, it doesn’t mention shunning at all!
The speaker goes on to say that a disfellowshipped person may say that he’s been kicked out of the family:
“However, remember that the wrongdoer changed his relationship with Jehovah and his family. It was their actions that affected the family, not ours.”
First, notice that he doesn’t deny that the disfellowshipped person has been kicked out of the family. He doesn’t say that this person is still part of the family and still welcomed, but instead, he starts to talk about why this person was kicked out.
His reasoning as to why a disfellowshipped person is kicked out of the family is based on two statements that are often outright lies in many of these disfellowshipping or disassociating scenarios:
1. The “wrongdoer” changed his relationship with Jehovah.
Often someone who is disfellowshipped has never loved Jehovah, at least not the Jehovah presented by Jehovah’s Witnesses, and never believed what was taught to them about the bible, but they became one of Jehovah’s Witnesses due to family pressure or ignorance of all that this step entails.
New bible students are rarely told all the details of the doctrines believed by Jehovah’s Witnesses, including prohibitions against masturbation and oral sex even between married couples, the wife’s need to be submissive and silent before her husband, their virtual endorsement of domestic violence (see this post), and the practice of tolerating pedophilia and even putting suspected and known pedophiles in positions of authority (see the Pedophilia category for more information).
New students also typically don’t know the history of Jehovah’s Witnesses and how they have been predicting the end of this world since the late 1800s. When they learn these things, they may realize that they don’t agree with many of these doctrines, or don’t want to follow men who have consistently flip-flopped in their beliefs.
Many Jehovah’s Witnesses were baptized as children after being strong-armed and emotionally blackmailed into the decision; see the Children category for more. As adults, they may then realize this is not the religion for them, and they disassociate themselves or do something that gets them disfellowshipped.
In other words, these ones never really “changed” their relationship with Jehovah. That relationship was always faulty, right from the beginning. This supposed “wrongdoer” simply began to live a more honest life, and stopped allowing themselves to be cajoled or forced into a religion not of their choosing. They may have realized that they were deceived or not given “the whole story” before they decided to become members.
I can actually use myself as an example. When I was a pre-teen, I never felt that Jehovah’s way was best; I could sense, even as a child, that his arrangement was misogynistic and abusive to women, and neglectful of children, especially those in abusive homes. I couldn’t imagine what was so evil about gay people and could see, even as a child, that the men controlling the organization were angry, abusive, arrogant, political, very much against women, and anything but loving and righteous.
However, everyone I knew around me wanted me to get baptized, and that’s just what I did. I thought it would make my mother happy, and make all these other adults happy.
Decades later, I realized that I had never “dedicated myself to Jehovah in my heart;” I never said that in prayer to him and never even really thought about Jehovah at all when it came to baptism! It was what these people in my religion and my life wanted, not what I wanted or even understood. Has my relationship with Jehovah changed now that I’m no longer a Witness? No, it hasn’t changed in the least; it’s a terrible relationship, but it’s always been terrible.
His second outright lie:
2. The supposed “wrongdoer” changed their relationship with the family; that it was their actions that affected the family.
This is an obscene untruth. Most disfellowshipped or disassociated persons want to have the same family bonds and continue to care for the family, and the only thing they change is their religious beliefs. However, it is the Jehovah’s Witness family members who change their relationship with him or her. This is proven by the fact that the disfellowshipped ones are not doing the shunning!
When someone no longer wishes to be one of Jehovah’s Witnesses or is excommunicated, they don’t shun their family members, refuse to talk to them, and turn their back on those ones. It is not their actions that are affecting the family!
I would wonder how he can outright say that it wasn’t their actions, meaning the actions of the active Jehovah’s Witnesses, that affected the family. How can he possibly deny that the Jehovah’s Witnesses are the ones who are proactively changing the family dynamics by choosing to shun someone else?
Refusing to Take Responsibility
Untruths are bad enough, but it’s most bothersome how Jehovah’s Witnesses refuse to take responsibility for their own beliefs. If they want to shun people who have left, that’s their right and privilege. While shunning is considered cruel by some, and may even cause persons to think poorly of Jehovah and this religion, Jehovah’s Witnesses still have the right to say that it’s part of their beliefs and that it’s what they require of their members.
However, if you’re going to do that, take responsibility! Admit that it’s your doctrine or belief or practice, and admit how it affects families, rather than trying to say that the disfellowshipped person is the one who ruined things.
It is questionable why Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t own up to their actions like men, and take responsibility for their own beliefs. Why don’t they just come out and say, “Yes, this is what we do, this is why we do it, and we’re proud of this practice. We don’t put the blame or responsibility for how it affects the family on anyone but us. We make the choice to shun, so we take full responsibility for everything that happens because of that choice.”
Jehovah’s Witnesses have no problem talking about how they don’t celebrate Christmas, don’t vote, etc., and they do this without saying that it’s someone else’s fault. As a matter of fact, they often talk openly about how they are “persecuted” as Christians for being different. So, why not be proud of shunning? Why put the blame on others for how the family dynamics change? Is it really because they think the disfellowshipped ones are the ones whose actions have affected the family, or is it so that they can feel better about themselves and this practice?