This weekend there were 2 very opposite scenarios playing out in my world. On the one hand, I had the joy of having my once-shunned-by-me sister Laura come for the weekend to visit, talk, laugh, and hug. On the other hand, my parents, my brother’s family, my in-laws, and all of my former friends attended the 3-day convention of Jehovah’s Witnesses, of which the theme this year was “Love Never Fails”.
Love never fails……..sigh. Yes, so they say, Jehovah’s Witnesses are the most loving people on the planet. I mean you have to have some limitations on that, right?So they love you if you’re a good person (just forget the part about ‘loving your enemies’). But you know…..to be a truly good person you have to be one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, so love never fails…as long as your one of them. But, actually, I think that still seems to lenient on people. So they will love you only if you’re in good standing within the congregation (not missing meetings regularly and not inactive in your ministry), because not every JW is good association. Ah….the most loving people on the planet!
Love never fails is the most laughable theme they could have chosen. One has to wonder if they are intentionally trying to mess with those who have left. Sure, any new person who comes to the their meetings for the first time will usually be blown away by the attention they get from everybody (‘Love bombing’, as its called). However, you will quickly see how deep this love really goes. All one has to do, and I mean all, is slow down just a bit in their spiritual pursuits, and the love that they highlight so much will being to evaporate. Miss a few meetings and you will get a few calls and visits from well-wishers who try to ‘encourage’ you to be more regular in your attendance (although I missed 6 months of meetings and got zero calls and visits). But continue missing meetings or field service and your ‘friends’ seem to disappear. After all, they can’t be around you too much because you might be considered bad association then. And that is still even if you still believe like they do in everything. Just step out of line a tiny bit (slow down spiritually in their eyes, or make some decisions they don’t agree with) and you will be slowly ostracized within the group. If your kicked out of the congregation because of some serious sin on your part they are then mandated to shun you completely. Even your family members. You would think that would be the time you would need the most help and support ( you know….actual Christian love). But no, “even a simple hello could be the first step towards sharing in their sins”. If you voluntarily leave because you just disagree about beliefs, then they will turn into a 5 year old – “if you don’t believe what I believe then I’m not going to talk to you!”
There had been plenty written about the topic of shunning by the ex-jw community. Much better articles than I could write. I will attempt to cover here only some basic points.
When JWs tend to argue in favor of their treatment disfellowshipped/disassociated ones they always make the same mistake. That is, they confuse the practice of removing someone from the congregation (disfellowshipping) with how to treat such ones when they are no longer a part of the congregation (shunning). Several people have made the argument to me that, ‘doesn’t any business or organization have the right to set its own rules, and if you don’t follow the rules don’t they have the right to ask you to leave?’ That argument and ones similar to it miss the point entirely. Sure, If I ran a business and an employee was not following the rules I had established, I would be in my right to ask them to leave, but I wouldn’t then never talk to them or avoid them at the grocery store or tell my other employees to also never talk to that person again. You can make the case biblically for the practice of disfellowshipping. Several verses bear that out. But shunning someone once she/he has been removed is a twisting of scriptures as I was will go into in a bit.
The practice of shunning as practiced by Jehovah’s Witnesses is, historically, a very minority opinion among Christian groups. Over almost 2,000 years of Christianity only the most controlling groups have used a practice of shunning former members. Today only very closed off groups such as some Amish groups, Westburo Baptist Church-like groups, Scientology, and Jehovah’s Witnesses are known from this type of shunning practices. Not the type of list I would want to have my organization be associated with.
Even among Jehovah’s Witnesses the practice of shunning is NOT a historical practice. Because you will never be told this info from anyone in the organization, let me lay out the basic timeline of this policy. From its founding in the late 1800s by Ct Russel, the Witnesses did not practice shunning. In fact during the Russel days, congregations were a very loose confederation, not the highly structured top-down bureaucracy it is today. Even during JF Rutherford’s tenure as president, when the organization was being restructured into the high-control beast it would become, shunning was not a thing. In fact it was mocked. They used the argument in their publications that they DIDN”T excommunicate and shun former members to show that they were God’s organization. Let that sink in for a moment – today they use the exact opposite argument to justify why they are God’s organization. In the 1920s and 30s if, in the rare occasion, someone’s conduct was so extreme that something needed to be done about it, the whole congregation was involved in voting whether someone should be allowed to stay in the congregation. But even in these rare events, shunning the expelled ones was not on the table. In 1947 (during Knor’s presidency) an article was published in the Awake magazine that labeled the whole practice of excommunication as unloving, pagan, and ‘nowhere in the scriptures’. You won’t find a JW that is familiar with this article because they don’t let you research any publication prior to 1950.
Everything changed in 1952. But up until then you have 80 years of Watchtower history where the idea of shunning didn’t even exist. So to any current JW that makes the argument that the practice is clearly scriptural and that the organization is just following the Bible’s guidelines, then where were those clear scriptures during the first half of our organization’s history? Did they find some new verses between 1947 and 1952 that they never read before? Those that defend the practice today don’t know there own organization’s history. Shunning was instituted as a practice in 1952 and for 3 decades it changed how they treated people who were disfellowshipped. Then in the 70s the practice was lighted a bit to give people the leniency to call up there disfellowshipped family and friends and see how they were doing. As long as you weren’t discussing spiritual matters with them it was considered acceptable. Then came the great apostate purge of 1980. High ranking bethelites and even Governing Body members were swiftly kicked out. Any perceived dissent was crushed. Afterwards, the lenient policies about disfellowshipped ones from the 70s were reversed and strict avoidance was the practice once again. However, what about ones that simply want to walk away and choose to voluntarily disassociate themselves from the organization? Surprisingly, up to that point it was no big deal. If you no longer want to be one of Jehovah’s Witnesses anymore, you could write a letter stating such and be done with it with no repercussions afterwards. No shunning involved, you were just a typical ‘worldly person’ to them, like everyone else. Since 1981, however, Jehovah’s Witnesses have become an organization from which it is impossible to leave with your dignity. From the moment that these words were printed in the September 15, 1981 Watchtower, choosing to disassociate yourself has been punishable by shunning: “Persons who make themselves ‘not of our sort’ by deliberately rejecting the faith and beliefs of Jehovah’s Witnesses should be appropriately be viewed and treated as those who have been disfellowshipped from wrongdoing.” So there it is, the current and practiced form of shunning by JWs today is only 38 years old in its current incarnation. So much for ‘clear scriptural guidelines’.
If you were to ‘research’ the ‘scriptural’ reasons for shunning in the Watchtower publications you will be faced with the same two verses over and over again: 1 Corinthians 5:11 and 2 John:10,11. There are sometimes other verses that may be used periodically, but these two verses are no doubt what the whole practice of shunning hangs on in their minds. So lets deal with those verses one by one, keeping in mind that for 2000 years 99% of people did NOT interpret these verses the way JWs do, and even JWs themselves did not view these verses like they currently do for the first almost 100 years of their existence.
1 Corinthians 5:11 says, “But now I am writing you to stop keeping company with anyone who is called a brother who is sexually immoral or a greedy person or an idolater or a reviler or a drunkard or an extortioner, not even eating with such a man.” The apostle Paul was shocked with some of the things the congregation was letting happen (apparently a guy was hooking up with his step-mom and making no attempt to hide it, and the congregation was cool with it). So in verse 9 he reminds them that they weren’t supposed to keep company with immoral people of the world. But then he says in verse 11 that that guideline also included those in the congregation as well that were doing such things. They weren’t even to eat with them.The first thing to keep in mind was this was a letter directed and addressed to the congregation as a whole, not to individuals. As such, he was directing how the congregation was to handle certain matters. As a congregation body they had the responsibility to expel the person from the group if he posed a danger to the rest of them by his conduct. The argument by JWs is that because Paul said to ‘not even eat with such a man’ then that would include ALL social situations and as such we would avoid contact with people expelled from the congregation. Again you have to realize that the advice was directed to the congregation as a whole. You can’t divorce the verse the from its 1st century context. This letter was penned in the mid-50s AD, just a couple of decades into Christianities existence. Christians were still considered a sect of Judaism at the time. They didn’t have their own church buildings, their own Kingdom Halls, they met in small groups in private homes of fellow believers. They met together for fellowship and take meals together (they called these ‘love feasts’), including the Lord’s Evening Meal. So the direction that Paul gave the Corinthians could be viewed as a prohibition of including this immoral man in the meals they took AS A GROUP when they met for fellowship and celebrated ‘the memorial of Christ’s death’ together. To interpret this verse as a prohibition for ALL social contact, even among family and friends is ‘going beyond the things written’. In verse 10 Paul even makes the point that you can’t avoid immoral people completely or you would ‘have to get out of the world’. But JWs want you to think that Paul then turns around in the very next verse and says to avoid completely those that leave your group. Paul even writes the congregation about the same situation in 2 Corinthians, and in 2:5-8 says that people in the congregation were taking what he said in his previous letter (about removing the wicked man) to harshly. That they should confirm their love for this man that they expelled, pointing out that “the rebuke given by the majority is sufficient for such a man”. So even here he says that not EVERYONE was avoiding him, only a majority. So there were obviously some that continued their contact with him, perhaps his family and those closest to him. But even then, Paul says that they are probably being to harsh with him and warned of ‘being overreached by Satan’. One last point on 1 Corinthians 5:11, Paul lays out this course of action specifically for ‘immoral ones, greedy ones, revilers, extortioners, idolators’. Where does he mention that you should avoid ones that simply don’t want to be a JW anymore? The JW Elders handbook lists literally dozens and dozens of reasons you can be dissfellowshipped (smoking, celebrating Christmas, having a job that requires you to have a gun, gambling, voting, taking blood. Etc). Where are all these reasons in Paul’s list? Are not JWs being harsh themselves when they have a literal rulebook that list reasons you can be expelled that aren’t mentioned in the Bible? I wonder what group in Jesus’s day were known for requiring rule after rule on top of God’s word that this reminds me of…….?
The second verse used to justify shunning is 2 John 10 and 11 which says, “If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your homes or say a greeting to him. For the one who says a greeting to him is a sharer in his wicked works.”
Pretty plain and simple right? Thats what the Watchtower would have you think. Funny, though, that in NONE of the articles that use this verse to justify shunning people do they ever discuss the context of those verses. I mean, there are only 13 verses in the entire book of 2 John, it couldn’t be to hard to see what the author was talking about. In fact you only have to back up to verse 7 to clearly see that it was a warning against what is called the ‘antichrist’, decievers that were denying that Jesus had come in the flesh. This was a hot topic at the end of the 1st century. Gnostic groups of Christians were spreading the idea that everything to do with physical reality was evil, and everything of spirit was good. They even beleived that the physical world we live in was created, not by the true God because Almighty God couldn’t have anything to do with physical existance, but by a lesser curropt created being. So flesh and blood was just a terrible thing to endure until we shed it and join the Holy true spiritual reality (that was a very overly simple explanation of Gnostic belief sorry). That all being so in Gnostic thought, Jesus Christ, the word of God, could not possibly have been a physical earthly being. He must have just gave the illusion that he had a real physical body, but was in reality only a spirit. That was why the author of 2 John was warning about those that denied that Jesua came into the flesh. But No JW will know this because the context and history of 2nd John is never discussed, only the 2 verses that on the surface appear to support their policy are quoted. But once you understand all that and then read verses 10 and 11 you suddenly realize why he said “If anyone comes to you and doesn’t bring THIS TEACHING…..“. What teaching? The teaching that Jesus DID come in the flesh, in an earthly body, not the Gnostic version of it.But JWs use this one verse about rejecting belief in Jesus and include in their interpretation of it every single scenario of leaving their organization. Leave their group for ANY reason and they will never speak to you again based on a warning given about Gnosticism. Another point on this verse is that, like the verse in Corinthians, it is addressed to the congregation. So when it speaks of not receiving these ones in your homes, like with the other verses, it is speaking about the homes the congregations met in for fellowship, meals, and instruction. So you wouldnt welcome into your meeting groups, which met in private homes, those teachers that were spreading antichristian ideas. Saying a greeting to such ones in that context was about supporting the teachings of such “deceivers”, not a simple hello that the Watchtower says it is. In fact the Greek word for greeting is ‘chairo‘ and is usually translated as wishing someone ‘God speed’, and means to rejoice with. They wouldn’t rejoice with such one’s by welcoming them into their congregations and supporting the teaching of Gnostic antichristian theology. So to use this as an excuse to shun anyone that doesnt want to be a JW is highly dishonest. Keep in mind that many who leave the organization still retain their Christian faith, and only reject the JW organization not Jesus, so shunning such ones doesnt make sense anyway.
I will leave you with a picture of my parents with my niece and nephew taken today at the conclusion of their convention and posted on their social media. There will never be a picture of them with me or my children. You see, my children dont exist for them anymore because their dad decided he no longer wanted to be one of Jehovah’s Witnesses and so is dead to them. Love Never Fails…..indeed.