Jehovah’s Witnesses practice a severe form of shunning, which is directed at members who are disfellowshipped (excommunicated), and at those who officially disassociate themselves. This includes family and even children; see the Shunning category for more details.
JWs will say that this shunning is done to “keep the congregation clean,” as they cannot have “unrepentant sinners” in their midst. However, according to a discourse given during the 2013 summer conventions, this is also done as a means of convincing these shunned ones to return to the congregation, which is a form of emotional blackmail.
It’s also often done for very selfish reasons. How so?
A Personal Experience
Consider the following letter that was written from a JW mother to her son who had been disfellowshipped, explaining why she can no longer be in contact with him. If you pick apart this letter, you see why she and so many other JWs just like her are actually being selfish in this practice of shunning. I’ll attach a photo of the letter below, but here is the transcript, with my comments and just a few minor omissions:
My Darling Son David,
You are so very special to me and have always been the love of my life. I used to think when you were little that I would die for you, and live because of you. You meant the world to me and I will always love you very much.
Because of this love I always wanted you to have the happiest, safest life I could provide and tried to bring you up with the strongly held beliefs I lived by, in the hope that this would affect your own life for the good and ultimately you would live forever in Paradise on earth. You know all this to be the case.
Stop for a moment. Right here is the first taste of why we know this letter is selfish and this practice of shunning is done for selfish reasons. Note the mother says she raised her son in the strongly held beliefs that she had, not the beliefs that her son expressed.
In all fairness, Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that their reward for being a JW is eternal life on paradise earth, and that’s a nice belief, but it doesn’t mean that their children will automatically agree with them, or that they (the child) will want the same things out of life as the parents.
Assuming that their children will also believe in this religion and share their religious opinions as they get older is a JW parent’s first sign of selfishness.
I personally have always believed in the Truth as presented in the Bible and have always felt the strong presence of Jehovah God and Jesus in my life, even as a child. I have always believed the prophesies in the Bible, and that there will be paradise on earth in which everyone will live in peace and love with no war, sickness and death, and that the dead will be resurrected due to Jehovah’s justice and fairness. I have always lived my life with all this in view, and have never sought a worldly, secular career or pathway. Becoming one of Jehovah’s Witnesses was the obvious next step for me.
Note how three sentences in a row start with “I”? Really read what this woman is saying: I believed this religion, I believe in Jehovah, I believe the bible, I believe in paradise on earth, I chose to give up a career, I chose to become one of Jehovah’s Witnesses… This letter continues to be about her and what she believes, and not about her son and what he believes, by way of religion or anything else.
I have chosen my path and my way of life and so I must live by the commands and statutes laid down in the Bible by Jehovah himself. One of these commands has been the cause of great stress and grief to me, and I have put it off for too long now. I realize that I would have benefitted spiritually by doing things Jehovah’s way from the start, and I must emphasize that what I am about to say to you is not influenced by any other living person, but is purely directed by my conscience and a desire to regain my peaceful friendship with God.
Back up for a minute to the second paragraph, where the mother says she wanted her son to have a happy life. However, whose definition of happiness is she using? Right after saying that, she goes into a long and lengthy discourse about why she believes the bible, why she became one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, why she lives the life she does.
This mother says nothing about what makes her son happy! Not one word is said about whether or not David was happy being a JW, or if this was actually his choice.
She wanted him to be happy, but only if living the life she demanded made him happy; if not, she writes him off. If something else made her son happy, or if he was not happy with the religion she chose for him, well, she is no longer his mother. “I wanted you to be happy, which is why I painted your bedroom blue, my favorite color, but now that I’ve found out that you don’t like blue, I can’t be your mother anymore.”
Whilst this is the single most painful thing I have ever had to do in my entire life, I need to move forward towards the goal of everlasting life, and to this end I deeply regret that I must terminate our relationship whilst you remain disfellowshipped.
I have cried myself dry over this situation, and it has broken my heart, but David you have known that it should have been handled this way from the start. You have chosen your path in life, and I wish you all the best.
Well, no, she doesn’t really wish him all the best because, if she did, she wouldn’t be terminating her relationship with him simply because he made different choices for himself. What is best for your child, even if they’re all grown up, is to know that their parents love and respect them as adults. What she wants is what’s best for her, and her own religious beliefs.
I want you to know that not only will my love always be there for you, but Jehovah too is waiting with open arms for your return.
This really drives home the point of how conditional the love of Jehovah’s Witnesses can be, even with family. Her love is there for him, but only if he should return to being one of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
It’s like putting the candy on the top shelf and telling the child they can have it after they clean their room. This mother will love him and be a parent to him but only if, and only after, he does what she demands of him. That love is not shared freely as a mother, but is given as a reward for choosing the same religion she chooses, and is withheld as a punishment when he chooses something else.
Some Jehovah’s Witnesses might argue that parents may keep their children at arm’s length for engaging in certain behaviors that anyone would find objectionable, for example, if they’re doing drugs or stealing cars. I can agree with this, but note that the mother doesn’t say she is terminating their relationship until he gets clean and sober or stops stealing cars. She says outright that this is while he is disfellowshipped.
Perhaps David did commit fornication or started smoking or thinks that Jehovah’s Witnesses are mishandling cases of pedophilia, but these behaviors, while objectionable to Jehovah’s Witnesses, shouldn’t lead to a parent terminating their relationship with their children. Everyday moral or lifestyle choices that don’t hurt anyone else should not dictate whether or not a parent continues a relationship with a child.
Emotional Blackmail From Start to Finish
It’s obvious from this letter that shunning is often done for selfish reasons. Not once does the mother talk about David’s wants or needs or opinions; not once does she talk about what makes him happy or his religious opinions. David actually appears in the letter hardly at all! Obviously David is not important; all that’s important is the mother’s choices and her opinions and her reasoning and why she became a Witness.
If this mother is so blind to her own narcissism in this letter, how blind had she been as a parent when it came to understanding, or even caring about, what her son wanted, or what he thought all the years she was raising him?
Did she make a habit of withholding her love and cutting him off while he was growing up? Is this how she managed to get David to become a baptized JW in the first place, by threatening to terminate their relationship when he was a child?
Why do JW parents not see how incredibly self-absorbed they are when they talk endlessly about what they want, and why they believe, and how they feel, and what they demand of their children, with so little interest in the child’s feelings? If this shunning is supposed to convince the person to come back to the religion, have they ever thought to ask why a child would want to be part of a religion that makes their parents so incredibly selfish, and that makes them virtually invisible?
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