Jehovah's Witnesses and Shunning
One of the
characteristics of a destructive religion is an enforced policy that requires
the members to shun anyone who leaves or gets expelled from the religion. It is
a common trait among esoteric movements that claim to be "the Truth." Members
are required to sever association with even their own family members and
relatives who leave.
consequences of this harsh doctrinal policy are extreme, shattering family
relationships and leaving the victims emotionally and spiritually devastated.
Suicides or attempted suicides are not uncommon.
Witnesses are among the religious groups that practice extreme shunning of
former members. Of all the Watchtower Society's legalistic doctrines, this one
is perhaps the most responsible for uprising among former members against the
Organization that has resulted in exhaustive examination and exposés of their
flawed teachings and history. Former members who disavow faith in the Watchtower
organization's doctrines are branded "apostates." Jehovah's Witnesses are taught
that they must hate such ones. An article titled "Search Through Me, O God"
appeared in the October 1, 1993 Watchtower. Speaking about "apostates" on page
19, beginning with paragraph 15, we read:
them, the psalmist said: "Do I not hate those who are intensely hating you, O
Jehovah, and do I not feel a loathing for those revolting against you? With a
complete hatred I do hate them. They have become tome real enemies." (Psalm
139:21, 22) It was because they intensely hated Jehovah that David looked on
them with abhorrence. Apostates are included among those who show their hatred
of Jehovah by revolting against him. Apostasy is, in reality, a rebellion
against Jehovah. Some apostates profess to know and serve God, but they reject
teachings or requirements set out in his Word. Others claim to believe the
Bible, but they reject Jehovah's organization and actively try to hinder its
work. When they deliberately choose such badness after knowing what is right,
when the bad becomes so ingrained that it is an inseparable part of their
makeup, then a Christian must hate (in the Biblical sense of the word) those who
have inseparably attached themselves to the badness. True Christians share
Jehovah's feelings toward such apostates; they are not curious about apostate
ideas. On the contrary, they "feel a loathing" toward those who have made
themselves God's enemies, but they leave it to Jehovah to execute
vengeance.--Job 13:16; Romans
12:19; 2 John 9, 10.
An article in
The Watchtower, September 15, 1981, on page 29 under the
heading "DISFELLOWSHIPPED RELATIVES NOT LIVING AT HOME" has this to say:
situation that we need to consider is that involving a disfellowshipped or
disassociated relative who is not in the immediate family circle or living at
one's home. Such a person is still related by blood or marriage, and so there
may be some limited need to care for necessary family matters. Nonetheless, it
is not as if he were living in the same home where contact and conversation
could not be avoided. We should keep clearly in mind the Bible's inspired
direction: "Quit mixing in company with anyone called a brother that is a
fornicator or a greedy person . . . not even eating with such a man."--1
the reference to this article on page 20 of The Watchtower November 15, 1988.
Disfellowshipping Versus Shunning
The point of this commentary will be to show that the Watchtower Society's
shunning doctrine does not adhere to the Bible. Further, an understanding of
congregational practices of first-century Christians in the Jewish culture is
necessary for a proper understanding of the scriptures on this matter. The
primary scripture for consideration is:
But now I am writing you to 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.--1.Corinthians 5:11
The text is
clear that a person with whom the congregation should not mix company is one who
a brother" (that is, one who professes to be a member of the congregation); and
2) Practicing fornication, greed, idolatry, reviling (insulting), habitual
drunkenness, and/or extortion (theft).
Witnesses do not disfellowship greedy persons.
do not disfellowship people who regularly get drunk unless their conduct
becomes so outrageous and publicly-known as to bring reproach upon Jehovah's
They do not
disfellowship people for many of the things which they
themselves class as "idolatry" (for example: materialism, worshipping an
On the other
hand, Jehovah's Witnesses do disfellowship and shun people for:
claiming to be called a brother/sister.
study and discussion of the Bible that brings Watchtower
doctrine into question.
of literature written by former members.
lunch with a former member, even if the former member professes to be a
Christian and was not disfellowshipped for fornication, greed, idolatry,
reviling, drunkenness, or extortion.
service of any other church or religious organization.
a blood transfusion, even to save the life of a child.
other actions not mentioned in scripture, but deemed by the
congregation elders to be "unclean conduct," or "conduct unbecoming" of a
this case covers a broad range of actions not clearly defined by the Society,
leaving discernment about what is not acceptable to the discretion of the
congregation's elders. As a result, standards by which people may be
disfellowshipped are inconsistent throughout this religion which claims "unity"
to be one of their identifying characteristics.
be mixing in company with" . . . "not even eating with . . ."
Here it is
important to learn the customs of association for worship practiced by
first-century Jews and Christians, bearing in mind that Jesus and the apostles
were Jews. They lived according to the Jewish lifestyle and customs of their
day. Jesus taught in the synagogues; hence, he was called "Rabbi." Matt.26:25;
26:49; Mark 9:5; 11:21; 14:25; John 1:38, 49; 3:2, 26;4:31; 6:25; 9:2; 11:8
two kinds of association for religious worship:
meetings, such as at the temple and in synagogues, which anyone was allowed to
gatherings of the different sects.
and Jews participated in both. Christians, met in private homes, usually over a
special meal with prayer. A presiding minister hosted the meal using either
fellowship funds or personal funds. (Acts 20:20; see the footnote in older
editions of the NWT) Christians were instructed to "greet" one another with a
kiss. (Rom.16:16;1.Cor.16:20; 2Cor.13:12; Ti.3:15; 1Pet.5:14) When Paul sent his
"greetings" in a letter to the Christians in Thessalonica, he requested that the
"brothers" be greeted by a "holy kiss" on his behalf. (1Thess.5:26)It was by
this sign that Judas betrayed Jesus. (Luke 22:47,48)
did instruct Christians to expel from the congregation's fellowship any person
who was purposely practicing willful sin. The disassociation would quite
naturally exclude them from being greeted by the identifying "holy kiss," as
well as not being allowed to share in meetings and the meals for Christian
worship and prayer. However, Paul's instruction did not prohibit normal
conversation or witnessing to former members. Nor were they barred from
attending worship in the temple or the synagogues. Jesus, the apostles and Paul,
along with the rest of the Jews, worshipped God both publicly in the temple and
synagogues, and privately with small groups in various homes. (Acts 5:42) It was
from the private Christian fellowship for worship that sinners were excluded.
What of 2 John 10,11?
anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, never receive him into
your homes or say a greeting to him. For he that says a greeting to him is a
sharer in his wicked works.--2 John 11 (NWT)
scripture is not about people who have been expelled from the Christian
congregation. When read in context, it is about anyone who "does not bring this
teaching" [of the Christ]. Because they held congregation meetings in their
homes (which might be little more than a dug-out or tent outside the city walls
of Jerusalem), in their culture their neighbors might view inviting a
non-Christian into the home as the Christian sharing worship with
non-Christians. Jehovah's Witnesses, while shunning disfellowshipped or
disassociated persons, do not prohibit them from attending the congregation
meetings at their Kingdom Halls. Yet the congregation was specifically where
Paul instructed Christians not be be "mixing in company with" disfellowshipped
scripture at 2 John 10 were observed literally by Jehovah's Witnesses, they
would be obliged to never invite anyone other than a Jehovah's Witness in good
standing into their home, or ever speak a greeting to anyone other than a
Jehovah's Witness. How did Jesus say one expelled from congregation should be
Moreover, if your brother commits a sin, go lay bare his fault between you and
him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does
not listen, take along with you one or two more, in order that at the mouth of
two or three witnesses eve matter may be established. If he does not listen to
them, speak to the congregation. If he does not listen even to the congregation,
let him be to you just as a man of the nations ['Gentile' in some translations]
and as a tax collector.--Matt.18:15-17 (NWT)
instruction was to bring up the matter of sin first between the two individuals
alone. Then, if the sinner would repent, there was no need to carry the matter
further. If the sinner was not repentant, then one or two others should be
sought for witnesses. If the sinner remained unrepentant, only then, as a last
resort, should it be brought before the entire congregation (not privately with
If, after all
that, the person was still would not listen, he should then be treated the same
as Gentiles and tax collectors. In other words, Christians were to treat former
members just like anyone else who was not a member of the congregation. To be
treated like a "man of the nations" (which is to say, a Gentile or foreigner)
was far from being shunned. Jewish people worked with, associated with,
transacted business with, and preached to Gentiles. As for "tax collectors,"
Jesus ate and associated with them. Matthew was a tax collector. Tax collectors
were not popular, but they were not shunned.
while passing along from there, Jesus caught sight of a man named Matthew seated
at the tax office, and he said to him: "Be my follower." Thereupon he did rise
up and follow him. Later, while he was reclining at the table in the house,
look! many tax collectors and sinners came and began reclining with Jesus and
his disciples. But on seeing this the Pharisees began to say to his disciples:
"Why is it that your teacher eats with tax collectors and sinners?" Hearing
[them], he said: "Persons in health do not need a physician, but the ailing do.
Go, then, and learn what this means, 'I want mercy, and not sacrifice.' For I
came to call, not righteous people,
but sinners." --Matt.9:9-13 NWT
There is no
scripture basis for mandating that Christians must totally shun former members
(that is, have no communication or conversation with them). The instruction is
to expel them from the congregation and treat them like anyone else who is not a
member. Especially, there is no scripture to support shunning of one's own
relatives--parents, children and siblings.
anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate
family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an
unbeliever."--1 Tim.5:8 (NIV)
Even for the
rest, Paul counseled against abandoning those separated from the congregation:
part, brothers, do not give up in doing right. But if anyone is not
obedient to our word through this letter, keep this one marked, stop
associating with him, that he may become ashamed. And yet do not be
considering him as an enemy, but continue admonishing him as a brother.
in the undistributed elders' guide When a Jehovah's Witness male qualifies to be
an elder in the congregation, is a signed an uncirculated proprietary book that
gives instruction for counseling and disciplinary actions according to the
Society's rules. The title of this book is Pay Attention To Yourselves and to
All the Flock. Interestingly, on the bottom of page 103 in that book, it is
stated that Jehovah's Witnesses need not be disfellowshipped for associating
with disfellowshipped relatives except if the association involves "spiritual
association" or if there is an attempt to excuse the former member's
objectionable behavior. It says:
a close relative would not be disfellowshipped for associating with a
disfellowshipped person unless there is spiritual association or an effort made
to excuse the wrongful course."--"Flock book", page 103, last paragraph.
documented exclusion, Jehovah's Witnesses the world over are taught that to
please Jehovah God they must shun their siblings, their children, and even their
parents who either choose to leave or are disfellowshipped--especially if the
crime is variance with Watchtower doctrine for which they are branded
"apostates." And it is a fact that many Witnesses have been disfellowshipped for
refusing to shun their disfellowshipped relatives.
If the law of
Christianity can be summed up in one word, it is "LOVE." Does not love rescue
and recover the sinner? Would Jesus shun the sheep who strayed from the flock?
the tax collectors and the sinners kept drawing near to him to hear him.
Consequently both the Pharisees and the scribes kept muttering saying: "This man
welcomes sinners and eats with them." Then he spoke this illustration to them,
saying: "What man of you with a hundred sheep, on losing one of them, will not
leave the ninety-nine behind in the wilderness and go for the lost one until he
finds it? And when he has found it he puts it upon his shoulders and rejoices.
And when he gets home he calls his friends and his neighbors together, saying to
them, 'Rejoice with me, because I have found my sheep that was lost.' I tell you
that thus there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner that repents than
over ninety-nine righteous ones who have no need of repentance.--Luke 15:1-7
Note that the
sheep did not have to come back and find the shepherd, the shepherd went after
the lost sheep.
Let us pray
that the Watchtower Society will soon be blessed with "new light" on their
policy of extremist shunning of former members, thereby liberating
thousands-both within and out of the organization from the heart-sickening
anguish imposed by this cruel, unjust, and unscriptural dogma.