DO JEHOVAH’S WITNESSES SHUN FAMILY MEMBERS WHO LEAVE? — Does the Bible Support the Jehovah’s Witness practice of shunning?
My name is Brenda Lee and I’m the author of Out of the Cocoon: A Young Woman’s Courageous Flight from the Grip of a Religious Cult. I was baptized at the tender age of ten and left the organization at eighteen when I moved from Pennsylvania to Colorado. I was never officially disfellowshipped from the Jehovah’s Witnesses and yet I have been shunned by my mother, sister, brother, four nephews and niece for the last 25 years. What is really sad is that they don’t know my eighteen-year old son. So, shunning has impacted not only my life, but the next generation in my family as well. I still have the original shunning letter from my mother. I believe the Watchtower is committing family genocide in the name of God.
Lying or using carefully chosen words camouflaged to deceive members and the general public is the hallmark of a cult. Shunning is one example of how the Jehovah’s Witnesses use cult deception. It is widely known among former Jehovah’s Witnesses that their Jehovah’s Witness relatives shun those who were raised as Jehovah’s Witnesses but were never baptized and those who simply leave the organization but who committed no sin.
My friend falls into the first category. She was never baptized and yet her mother and brother (an elder in this religion) are currently shunning her. Unbelievably, they also shun her developmentally disabled daughter. Yes, this grandmother and uncle think it is “loving” to shun my friend’s special needs child! I fall into the second category. I simply walked away and haven’t heard from my family in over 25 years!
When the Watchtower says on their website: “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…” (https://www.jw.org/en/jehovahs-witnesses/faq/shunning/), they are LYING plain and simple. Although in an earlier version of their article that was available in 2007 on their old site at (http://www.jw-media.org/beliefs/beliefsfaq.htm) a few sentences down from the above statement, the Watchtower admitted: “Those who formally say they do not want to be part of the organization any more are also avoided,” they were not being completely honest. The result whether you are simply “drifting away” or “formally say” you do not want to be part of the organization is the same— i.e., shunning. .
I know several people like my friend that I mentioned above who were raised as Jehovah’s Witnesses but who were NEVER “baptized” so they were never officially members of the organization. Yet, today, their Jehovah’s Witness families are shunning them. I “drifted away” at the age of 18 and within two weeks of not attending meetings, I was shunned. Contrary to the Watchtower’s statement above, not a single Jehovah’s Witness spoke to me again or came to my graduation even though I had sent out over 50 graduation invitations just prior to my “drifting away.” So, long before I ever “formally” said that I did not want to be part of the Jehovah’s Witness organization, I was shunned. I and many others are living proof that they are lying about their shunning policy on their website.
One thing you should realize too is that they don’t simply let people “drift away.” This is another one of their misleading statements. It has been their policy to force any “baptized” dissenter to state whether or not they want to remain a member once they become inactive, so that they can officially feel justified in “shunning” them. Less than a year after I had stopped attending Jehovah’s Witness meetings, the elders asked me by letter if I wanted to be known as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Once I replied, I was officially disassociated, but as I mentioned earlier, the shunning had already started long before this.
Indeed, there is no honorable way out of the Jehovah’s Witness organization. Witnesses are required to “shun” family members and friends who leave whether they were officially “disfellowshipped” or simply walked away. Consider the following quotes from official Watchtower literature:
“Her parents had been disfellowshipped. She was not, but she voluntarily disassociated herself by writing a letter withdrawing from the congregation. …She moved away, but years later she returned and found that local Witnesses would not converse with her. …Such shunning would be appropriate, too, for anyone who rejects the congregation. …By also avoiding persons who have deliberately disassociated themselves, Christians are protected from possible critical, unappreciative, or even apostate views. …Imagine, too, how the wrongdoer’s brothers, sisters, and grandparents felt. Yet, their putting loyalty to their righteous God before family affection could be lifesaving for them.”—The Watchtower, April 15, 1988, pp. 26-28
“Yes, when a person chooses to leave Jehovah and the way of life set out in the Scriptures, faithful family members typically experience deep anguish. ‘I love my sister very much…I would do anything to see her come back to Jehovah!’ Maria, whose brother turned his back… says: ‘… I especially miss him at large family gatherings.’ ” —The Watchtower, September 1, 2006, p. 17
“This brings a test upon a Christian when a marriage mate, a child, a parent, or another close relative is disfellowshipped or has disassociated himself from the congregation… the principles of which apply equally to those who are disfellowshipped and to those who disassociate themselves… Hence, we also avoid social fellowship with an expelled person. This would rule out joining him in a picnic, party, or trip to the shops or theatre or sitting down to a meal with him either in the home or at a restaurant. …if the disfellowshipped or disassociated one is a relative living outside the immediate family circle and home… It might be possible to have almost no contact at all with the relative.”—Our Kingdom Ministry, August 2002, pp. 3-4
“And we all know from our experience over the years that a simple ‘Hello’ to someone can be the first step that develops into a conversation and maybe even a friendship. Would we want to take that first step with a disfellowshipped person?”—The Watchtower, September 15, 1981, p. 25
As if “shunning” the former member is not enough, the Watchtower has also admonished its followers to “hate” with “Godly hatred” all Ex-Jehovah’s Witnesses:
“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, p. 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, p. 19
Jesus said that His true followers would be recognized by the “love” they have among themselves (John 13:34-35). Although the Bible allows for the act of expelling a Christian believer from church affiliation if they practice immoral behavior, this discipline is to be administered in humility and love for the sake of the sinful believer’s eternal destiny (Romans 14:1; Galatians 6:1; 1 Corinthians 5:4-5). It was not done in the scornful, “hateful” way that the Jehovah’s Witness elders interrogate spiritually “weak” followers to force confession to acts they deem as disfellowshipping offenses and compel Jehovah’s Witness friends and relatives to “shun” by completely cutting off all unnecessary communication with them.
Should the policy of “shunning” be considered a “loving” form of spiritual discipline? We read in the Bible that spiritual discipline is always to be accompanied by loving attempts of reconciliation (Matthew 18:15-17; 2 Corinthians 2:6-8). The communication lines are to be kept open at all times (2 Thessalonians 3:6, 14-15) and the repentant sinner is to be welcomed back immediately without a long-trial period of performance (Luke 15:18-23). The following chart illustrates some of the significant differences between the Jehovah’s Witness practice of disfellowshipping and the Christian practice of spiritual correction described in the Bible:
JEHOVAH’S WITNESS DISCIPLINE
|Disfellowshipping Sins:||Expelling Sins – 1 Corinthians 5:11; Titus 3:10; 2 Thessalonians 3:6:|
An unrepentant Jehovah’s Witness is disfellowshipped without the input of the congregation. A Jehovah’s Witness who commits “unclean conduct” according to the Watchtower’s guidelines is disfellowshipped by a “judicial committee” made of up three Jehovah’s Witness elders. This decision is made behind closed doors without the input of others in the congregation.
An unrepentant Christian “brother” is expelled from the congregation/church only after he has refused to listen to the rebuke of at least two brothers and the congregation as a whole. Matthew 18:15-17: “If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that BY THE MOUTH OF TWO OR THREE WITNESSES EVERY FACT MAY BE CONFIRMED. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” ** 2 Corinthians 2:6: “Sufficient for such a one is this punishment which was inflicted by the majority.”
Disfellowshipped Jehovah’s Witnesses are not to be considered “brothers” in the faith, but rather enemies to be “hated” with “Godly hatred” (WT 6-15-1980, p. 8 and WT 10-1-1993, p. 13). Ex-Jehovah’s Witnesses are told that they have lost their salvation and have no hope of future resurrection unless they return to the Watchtower organization before their physical death.
Expelled members are “loved,” not “hated” (Luke 6:27-37), and are still considered “brothers” in the faith who will be “saved” regardless of whether they return to the church fellowship. 2 Thessalonians 3:15: “Yet do not regard him as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother.”1 Corinthians 5:4-5: “In the name of our Lord Jesus, when you are assembled, and I with you in spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus, I have decided to deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.”
Unless the member is appointed as a qualified “elder,” all communication between Jehovah’s Witness members and Ex-Jehovah’s Witnesses is strictly prohibited. Referencing 2 John 10 to support this practice, the Watchtower takes this passage out of context. This verse speaks of not greeting/welcoming false teachers into the first century “house” churches to proclaim their false gospel message to church members. This passage has nothing to do with how to treat a disfellowshipped “brother.”
While “association” with an expelled “brother” is limited (2 Thessalonians 3:6, 14; 1 Corinthians 5:11), they are still allowed to be spoken to and “admonished” to turn from their sinful ways (2 Thessalonians 3:15). There is no indication in any of these Scriptures that only “elders” are allowed to communicate with expelled “brothers.” James 5:19-20: “My brethren, if any among you strays from the truth and one turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.”
Ex-Jehovah’s Witnesses who commit no sin but disassociate themselves from the Watchtower organization are shunned along with those who were officially disfellowshipped for wrongdoing.
There is no command in Scripture to shun those who leave the Christian faith (1 John 2:19). While those who cause divisions (Romans 16:17) or promote false doctrines (Titus 3:10) are to be watched and “rejected” if they do not repent after being warned, there is no command to stop communicating with ex-believers.
** All Scripture passages are quoted from the New American Standard Bible.