The Watchtower divides punishment of wrongdoers into two categories, those deserving of marking(4) and those deserving of disfellowshipping (or “disassociation”(5)). Marking is applied to mild wrongdoing, (not yet gross sin for which they might be disfellowshipped w82 2/1 p.31), and the person is not named. On the other hand, a disfellowshipped person is publicly named and must be avoided by all Witnesses in almost all circumstances. It is important to note that the Bible never uses the term disfellowship and makes no such distinction from marking.
The Watchtower Society is very clear on how a disfellowshipped person is to be treated. A disfellowshipped person is not to be associated with under any social circumstances; in fact the word “Hello” should not even be uttered to these ones, even in the kingdom hall. This treatment is far harsher than how a Witness would treat a person of the world. Yet, as discussed later in this article, the Bible only said that it is the Antichrist that one should not say a greeting to. This type of treatment was not to extend to other wrongdoers such as fornicators. The Society is bundling all forms of wrongdoing as the same, and treatment is to be of the same harsh standard for all disfellowshipped people regardless of the wrongdoing that was done. Hence, a disfellowshipped Witness must not be greeted regardless of whether their “sin” was murder, changing beliefs or simply smoking cigarettes.
Total avoidance of the member is extended beyond members of the congregation and to ones immediate family. Few people could consider it acceptable that a religion demand parents shun their own child, and it is incomprehensible that the following quote was written in the twenty first century.
“What if we have a relative or a close friend who is disfellowshipped? Now our loyalty is on the line, not to that person, but to God. Jehovah is watching us to see whether we will abide by his command not to have contact with anyone who is disfellowshipped.—Read 1 Corinthians 5:11-13.
Consider just one example of the good that can come when a family loyally upholds Jehovah’s decree not to associate with disfellowshipped relatives. A young man had been disfellowshipped for over ten years, during which time his father, mother, and four brothers “quit mixing in company” with him. At times, he tried to involve himself in their activities, but to their credit, each member of the family was steadfast in not having any contact with him. After he was reinstated, he said that he always missed the association with his family, especially at night when he was alone. But, he admitted, had the family associated with him even a little, that small dose would have satisfied him. However, because he did not receive even the slightest communication from any of his family, the burning desire to be with them became one motivating factor in his restoring his relationship with Jehovah.” Watchtower 2012 Apr 15 p.12
In reading the supporting Scripture, 1 Corinthians 5, one cannot help notice that it does not mention the word disfellowship, does not indicate strict shunning, nor imply application to family members. Further, the concept that a son should be bribed back into a relationship with Jehovah hardly seems of value beyond increasing membership numbers.
The following quotes span a number of decades regarding the treatment of disfellowshipped members and how they are to be viewed. Due to these articles, former Jehovah’s Witnesses have been shunned by Witness family members for decades.
The current standard on how to treat the disfellowshipped was set in the Watchtower of September 15, 1981. The rules in this article have been quoted in the Kingdom Ministry August 2002 and the 2008 book Keep Yourself in God’s Love. The discussion on disfellowshipping in Keep Yourself in God’s Love shows that there has been no softening in recent times.
Further quotes outlining how the Watchtower Society expects Jehovah’s Witnesses to treat disfellowshipped members are as follows.
“Really, what your beloved family member needs to see is your resolute stance to put Jehovah above everything else – including the family bond. … Do not look for excuses to associate with a disfellowshipped family member, for example, through e-mail. Watchtower 2013 Jan 15 p.16
“And all members of the congregation need to be determined to avoid the company of disfellowshipped individuals.” Watchtower 2011 Nov 15 p.5
“Suppose, for example, that the only son of an exemplary Christian couple leaves the truth. Preferring “the temporary enjoyment of sin” to a personal relationship with Jehovah and with his godly parents, the young man is disfellowshipped. … the Bible says “to quit mixing in company with anyone called a brother that is a fornicator. … They also realise that the word “anyone” in this verse includes family members not living under their roof. … Our hearts go out to those parents. After all, their son had a choice, and he chose to pursue his unchristian lifestyle rather than to continue to enjoy close association with his parents and other fellow believers. The parents, on the other hand, had no say in the matter. … But what will those dear parents do? Will they obey Jehovah’s clear direction? Or will they rationalize that they can have regular association with the disfellowshipped son and call it, “necessary family business”? In making their decision, they must not fail to consider how Jehovah feels about what they are doing. … Today, Jehovah does not immediately execute those who violate his laws. He lovingly gives them an opportunity to repent from their unrighteous works. How would Jehovah feel, though, if the parents of an unrepentant wrongdoer kept putting Him to the test by having unnecessary association with their disfellowshipped son or daughter?” Watchtower 2011 Jul 15 p.31, p.32
“By cutting off contact with the disfellowshipped or disassociated one, you are showing that you hate the attitudes and actions that led to that outcome. However, you are also showing that you love the wrongdoer enough to do what is best for him or her. Your loyalty to Jehovah may increase the likelihood that the disciplined one will repent and return to Jehovah.” Watchtower 2011 Feb 15 p.32
“Is strict avoidance really necessary? Yes for several reasons. … In other cases, the disfellowshipped relative may be living outside the immediate family circle and home. Although there might be a need for limited contact on some rare occasion to care for a necessary family matter, any such contact should be kept to a minimum.” Keep Yourself in God’s Love (2008) pp.207,208
“If your child is unrepentant and is a baptized Christian, he may receive the strongest form of disciplinebeing disfellowshipped from the congregation. The extent of contact that you will then have with him depends on his age and other circumstances.
If the child is a minor and is living at home, you will naturally continue to take care of his physical needs. He also requires moral training and discipline, and you have the responsibility to provide these. (Proverbs 1:8-18; 6:20-22; 29:17) You may want to conduct a Bible study with him, involving his direct participation. You can draw his attention to various scriptures and to the publications provided by the faithful and discreet slave. (Matthew 24:45) You can also take the child with you to Christian meetings and have him sit with you. All of this can be done in hopes that he will take Scriptural counsel to heart. The situation is different if the disfellowshipped one is not a minor and is living away from home. The apostle Paul admonished Christians in ancient Corinth: Quit mixing in company with anyone called a brother that is a fornicator or a greedy person or an idolater or a reviler or a drunkard or an extortioner, not even eating with such a man. (1Corinthians 5:11) While caring for necessary family matters may require some contact with the disfellowshipped person, a Christian parent should strive to avoid needless association.
When an erring child is disciplined by Christian shepherds, it would be unwise if you were to reject or minimize their Bible-based action. Siding with your rebellious child would not be providing any real protection from the Devil. Actually, you would be endangering your own spiritual health. On the other hand, by supporting the efforts of the shepherds, you will remain solid in the faith and will provide the best help for your child.” Watchtower 2007 Jan 15 p.20 Remaining Steadfast When a Child Rebels
“What about speaking with a disfellowshipped person? While the Bible does not cover every possible situation, 2 John 10 helps us to get Jehovah’s view of matters: “If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, never receive him into your homes or say a greeting to him.” Commenting on this, The Watchtower of September 15, 1981, page 25, says: “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?” Indeed, it is just as page 31 of the same issue of The Watchtower states: “The fact is that when a Christian gives himself over to sin and has to be disfellowshipped, he forfeits much: his approved standing with God; . . . sweet fellowship with the brothers, including much of the association he had with Christian relatives.” Cooperating with the Scriptural arrangement to disfellowship and shun unrepentant wrongdoers is beneficial. It preserves the cleanness of the congregation and distinguishes us as upholders of the Bible’s high moral standards. (1 Pet. 1:14-16) It protects us from corrupting influences. (Gal. 5:7-9) It also affords the wrongdoer an opportunity to benefit fully from the discipline received, which can help him to produce “peaceable fruit, namely, righteousness.”-Heb. 12:11. After hearing a talk at a circuit assembly, a brother and his fleshly sister realized that they needed to make adjustments in the way they treated their mother, who lived elsewhere and who had been disfellowshipped for six years. Immediately after the assembly, the man called his mother, and after assuring her of their love, he explained that they could no longer talk to her unless there were important family matters requiring contact.” Kingdom Ministry Aug 2002 p.3
“Cutting off from the Christian congregation does not involve immediate death, so family ties continue. Thus, a man who is disfellowshipped or who disassociates himself may still live at home with his Christian wife and faithful children The situation is different 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. Even if there were some family matters requiring contact, this certainly would be kept to a minimum, in line with the divine principle: “Quit mixing in company with anyone called a brother that is a fornicator or a greedy person [or guilty of another gross sin], . . . not even eating with such a man.”-1 Corinthians 5:11. Understandably, this may be difficult because of emotions and family ties, such as grandparents’ love for their grandchildren. Yet, this is a test of loyalty to God, as stated by the sister quoted on page 26.”
Watchtower 1988 Apr 15 p.27
“It is the disfellowshipped person who has made problems for himself and for his relatives.” Watchtower 1981 Sep 15 p.27
“Yet, there might be some absolutely necessary family matters requiring communication, such as legalities over a will or property. But the disfellowshiped relative should be made to appreciate that his status has changed, that he is no longer welcome in the home nor is he a preferred companion.” Watchtower 1970 Jun 1 pp.351-352
“The wrongdoer has to realize that his status is completely changed, that his faithful Christian relatives thoroughly disapprove of his wicked course and show this disapproval by limiting contacts to only those which are unavoidable” Watchtower 1963 Jul 15 p.444
“Jesus encouraged his followers to love their enemies, but God’s Word also says to “hate what is bad.” When a person persists in a way of badness after knowing what is right, when the bad becomes so ingrained that it is an inseparable part of his make-up, then in order to hate what is bad a Christian must hate the person with whom the badness is inseparably linked.” Watchtower 1961 Jul 15 p.420
“Being limited by the laws of the worldly nation in which we live and also by the laws of God through Jesus Christ, we can take action against apostates only to a certain extent, that is, consistent with both sets of laws. The law of the land and God’s law through Christ forbid us to kill apostates, even though they be members of our own flesh-and-blood family relationship. However, God’s law requires us to recognize their being disfellowshiped from his congregation, and this despite the fact that the law of the land in which we live requires us under some natural obligation to live with and have dealings with such apostates under the same roof. Satan’s influence through the disfellowshiped member of the family will be to cause the other member or members of the family who are in the truth to join the disfellowshiped member in his course or in his position toward God’s organization. To do this would be disastrous, and so the faithful family member must recognize and conform to the disfellowship order. How would or could this be done while living under the same roof or in personal, physical contact daily with the disfellowshiped? In this way: By refusing to have religious relationship with the disfellowshiped.”
Watchtower 1952 Nov 15 p.703
If a person dies in a disfellowshipped state they still are not to be associated with, so Witnesses are persuaded from attending their funeral.
“In “Questions from Readers” (The Watchtower, 1961, p. 544) the position was taken that a funeral for a disfellowshiped person was improper. The comment was made: “We never want to give the impression to outsiders that a disfellowshiped person was acceptable in the congregation when in truth and in fact he was not acceptable but had been disfellowshiped from it.” A Christian congregation would not want its good name besmirched by having it associated with any to whom 2 John 9, 10 applied, even in their death.” Watchtower 1977 June 1 p. 347 Mourning and Funerals-For Whom?
It is quite shocking that under certain circumstances even a parent can be disfellowshipped for associating with their own disfellowshipped children.
Normally, a close relative would not be disfellowshipped for associating with a disfellowshipped person unless there is spiritual association or an effort made to justify or excuse the wrongful course. Pay Attention to Yourselves and all the Flock p.103
The latest elder’s book, Shepherd the Flock of God (2010) reconfirms this, explaining that association with a relative can result in losing congregation privileges and even being disfellowshipped.
Assist those having undue association with disfellowshipped or disassociated relatives. … If members of the congregation are known to have undue association with disfellowshipped or disassociated relatives who are not in the household, elders should counsel and reason with those members of the congregation from the Scriptures. … If it is clear that a Christian is violating the spirit of the disfellowshipping decree in this regard and does not respond to counsel, it may be that he would not qualify for congregation privileges, which require one to be exemplary. He would not be dealt with judicially unless there is persistent spiritual association or he openly criticizes the disfellowshipping decision. pp.114-116
It should be noted that not all Witnesses strictly follow the Watchtower guidelines, but those that continue contact with disfellowshipped family or friends conceal such association for fear of being disfellowshipped themselves.
Experiences of Disfellowshipped People
The Last Night
Mum brought my brothers and sister over to my apartment the Thursday they were to announce my disfellowshipping. We made small talk and laughed like we always did and then she cleared her throat. It’s a very distinct throat clearing that we all recognize. It means she’s upset and about to say something important. A stillness came over the room. Everyone grew uncomfortable and their smiles quickly dissipated. She then lined up the family and told them to say good-bye to me because we wouldn’t see each other again for a very long time. They each, one by one, hugged me uncomfortably with confused looks on their faces. Emily was 9, Chad 11, Michael 17. I remember Emily quietly sobbing and clutching my skirt with her little chubby fingers at one point, as Mom went on about how I had a choice and this is what I chose. I had been looking down during this speech and focused on Emily’s fingers. She wore glitter nail polish and had a smiley face drawn on her left thumb by her friends at school earlier that day.
Afterwards, she sent them to the car and said, “I love you, Rebecca. And, I’ll be waiting for the day you come back. When that day comes, I’ll welcome you with arms wide open just as the prodigal son was joyously received by his father. I’ll say, ‘This daughter of mine was dead, but has now returned to life. She was once lost, but now is found.’ And, then we will have a huge party celebrating your return, but until then you are exactly as the Scriptures say … You are dead to me. You made a promise to Jehovah on June 13, 1995 and dedicated your life to serving him; today you have decided to turn your back on God.” She then kissed my cheek and walked out the door.
I stood there at the front door with those words ringing in my ears, “Turned your back on God… Dead to me.” Slowly, I crumpled to the floor sobbing. I kept replaying all of it over and over in my head… their solemn faces, the coldness in mom’s voice. And, then I thought back to those little glitter nails… the hand drawn smiley face. I went back to before the lecture, to the first 15 minutes when we laughed and made small talk. It was the last normal moment I ever had with my family. I drug myself to bed and finally fell asleep thinking of those 15 minutes of laughter and that smiley face on Emily’s thumb.
I Have My Sister Back
My sister has been disfellowshipped for well over a decade. At that time, I was busy wooing my wife-to-be, and very busy with starting a life of my own. I shunned her completely just like I was supposed to. She wasn’t even invited to my wedding.
At first, I felt self-righteous in shunning her. As the years have gone by, I have become increasingly aware of all that is being missed. She has a family that I don’t know. A life that I’m not a part of. She has never met my children. My kids dont know this Aunt and Uncle and Cousin. This awareness has become more and more heavy, and has turned into a sense of guilt and remorse. How could I turn my back on my own sister?
I couldn’t waste any more time. This weekend I found her through google. I sent an email, just hoping that it would reach her.
And today, she replied! We are going to talk soon. We have so much to catch up on! I don’t even know where to begin. Actually, I do know where to begin.
It will begin with an apology.
The Walk of Shame
It all starts after you hear “these things we pray through Jesus Christ, Amen”.
I gather my books and the kid’s books and put them away. By that time people are walking over to us and talking to my wife and playing with my kids. They will talk to her about the weather, the meeting, her pregnancy or anything. Do they ask about me? No. Do they talk to me? No. Not only will they not talk to me, they don’t even acknowledge my existence with a nod, a smile or even eye contact. See, I’m dead to them. Who are these people? Well, they are ones who claimed to be my best friends, my spiritual brothers, people who loved me, well, only until 3 men judged me as a sinner worthy of death, now I suppose I’m not worthy of even a “hello” from them. Screw ’em. I stay at my seat for a while because with a 2 1/2 year old and a 4 1/2 year old my wife needs help keeping an eye on the kids. After a short while I just can’t take it anymore. Thus the walk of shame begins. I navigate my way through the forest of people all the while noticing people….not noticing me (or at least pretending not to). I walk right past a friend of mine who doesn’t even look at me even though over the summer we sat on my patio after putting up a fence and shared a six pack and played with my dog. Then there are the elders, the Shepherd’s of the flock that see a sheep having trouble and offer no help, again not even a glance. Then the real hurt and anger hits. I see little kids, most of who play with my son and daughter. They won’t even say hi to me. These are otherwise innocent little kids who know they can’t talk to “that man”. I get my coat on and walk out the door, I go to the car to sit and stare at the night sky wondering if I am indeed the kind of person that deserves this type of treatment.
Thanks for reading, I just needed to vent. It’s been about 2 months or so since my DF announcement and it’s just getting hard to do the walk of shame 3 times a week.
Out of the Mouth of Babes
A grandmother has not seen her six year old grand daughter for 18 months because her son is disfellowshipped. The six year old made the following comment to her mother.
“I think it was people who just made that (shunning) up and not God because I don’t think he would do something such a nuisance. If you’re in that religion when I’m a grown up and can’t come to see me, I will still come to see you.”
What sort of religion makes children think their mother may not want to see them?
For additional experiences that show the illogical and counter productive nature of disfellowshipping see:
Shunning as practiced by similar high control groups
The Watchtower application of disfellowshipping is one of the more extreme in Christianity and emulates behavioural characteristics common amongst high control groups such as Mormons, Scientologists, Exclusive Brethern and Amish.
Disconnection is a Scientology practice of cutting all ties and all communication with someone who is declared a Suppressive Person (evil) by the Church of Scientology. This may include family, friends, loved ones, work associates, acquaintances, or anyone else found Suppressive by the Church.
Disconnection is a very touchy topic among Scientologists and critics both. Scientologists believe that Disconnection is generally a necessary action that, when undertaken, benefits the group as a whole. Critics believe this is an extremely harmful practice akin to emotional blackmail that destroys families and interpersonal relationships. (exscientologykids.com Sept 28 2008)
“… the church’s Web site lists the following reasons for convening a disciplinary council: ” abortion, transsexual operation, attempted murder, rape, forcible sexual abuse, intentionally inflicting serious physical injuries on others, adultery, fornication, homosexual relations, child abuse (sexual or physical), spouse abuse, deliberate abandonment of family responsibilities, robbery, burglary, theft, sale of illegal drugs, fraud, perjury, or false swearing.”
In addition, “disciplinary councils must be held in cases of murder, incest or apostasy.” Apostasy is defined by the church’s General Handbook of Instructions as teaching or following incorrect doctrines or “repeatedly act[ing] in clear, open and deliberate public opposition to the church or its leaders.”
Excommunication is the most severe punishment that a church disciplinary council can hand down against a member. Disfellowshipment is a punishment just short of excommunication in which a member remains part of the church but may not enter the temple, hold leadership roles, receive sacraments or perform priestly duties. Lesser disciplinary actions are private caution and informal or formal probation.
Excommunication results in a member’s name being removed from the church records and disfellowshipment; an excommunicated member may not wear temple undergarments or tithe to the church, and the member’s temple sealings to spouse and children are suspended.
Excommunicated members may rejoin the church after repenting and undergoing re-baptism. (pbs.org/mormons Sep 28 2008)
“Excommunication is here taken to mean the exclusion of the offender from all church fellowship. …
The grounds for excommunication have always included both heretical doctrine and misconduct. The latter has included not only gross and flagrant sin but also disobedience to the regulations of the church, including a variety of points depending upon the character of the congregational or conference regulations. At various times and places the following have been (and still are) grounds: immorality in any form, theft, lying, etc., drinking of alcoholic beverages or drunkenness, smoking tobacco, attendance at theaters (including motion pictures), gambling and card playing, military service and training, unethical economic practices including taking advantage of bankruptcy laws, wearing of jewelry and fashionable attire, violation of the requirements of uniform costume, etc.” (gameo.org 28 Sep 2008)
Exclusive Brethren are another religion that excommunicate and shun members. They believe they alone follow the Bible and are no part of the world. They avoid worldly people and do not vote. Their official site is theexclusivebrethren.com
Is it fair that Brethren parents shun their children, even if they think they have the truth?
Is it reasonable for any of these groups to shun based on their personal understanding of truth?
(4) When a person is marked they are not named and are allowed to continue contact with others. Only those who specifically know of the person’s wrongdoing are advised to stop associating with the person socially, but may still speak to them at the meetings. (5) A second term used is disassociation, where a Witness voluntarily removes themselves from the congregation. For the sake of this article disfellowshipping and disassociation will be considered the same as the implications to the individual are almost identical, in both cases leading to shunning.