Monday June 26, 2017

Disfellowship & Shunning

Jehovah's Witnesses disfellowship those that are deemed unrepentant wrongdoers, for practices such as disagreeing with Watchtower doctrine, smoking or fornication. A disfellowshipped person is to be shunned by family and friends, usually for the remainder of their life, so go through tremendous emotional suffering. 

Though there is Scriptural precedence to avoid people practicing wrongdoing, the Watchtower application of disfellowshipping seriously deviates from Bible guidelines in multiple ways. 

The Watchtower explains:

""disfellowshiping" is what Jehovah's Witnesses appropriately call the expelling and subsequent shunning of such an unrepentant wrongdoer.... 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 disfellowshiped person?" Watchtower 1981 Sep 15 pp.22,25

One percent of Jehovah's Witnesses are disfellowshipped each year; over 60,000(1). Two out of every three are never reinstated(2). Being disfellowshipped can result in serious emotional side affects because:

  • those that continue to believe Watchtower doctrine are told that whilst disfellowshipped they are condemned to everlasting destruction
  • those who become unbelievers, with no intention of returning to the Watchtower Society, realise they are unlikely to freely associate with Witness family and friends for the remainder of their lives.

The Watchtower Society greatly extends Biblical guidelines in a number of ways;

  • 2 John 10 says not to ‘greet’ the Antichrist. The Watchtower uses this single Scripture to support not saying “hello” to any disfellowshipped person.
  • Jehovah's Witnesses shun members for practices not forbidden in the Bible (such as smoking, gambling and having a blood transfusion)
  • Shunning is extended to include immediate family members
  • The punishment applies forever, or until the Watchtower Society formally reinstates the person. It is considered irrelevant whether the person no longer practices the wrongdoing they were disfellowshipped

It was not until 1952 that the Watchtower introduced disfellowshipping as now practiced and the following review of the Scriptural principles involved shows that there is no Biblical justification for this unchristian form of manipulation.

Bible guidelines on disfellowshipping

The Watchtower Society divides punishment of wrongdoers into two categories, those deserving of “marking” and those deserving of “disfellowshipping”. Marking is applied to mild wrongdoing. (“not yet gross sin for which they might be disfellowshipped” w92 2/1 p.31) 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. On the other hand, a disfellowshipped person is publicly named and must be avoided by all Witnesses in almost all circumstances.

The Bible never uses the term “disfellowshipping” and makes no such distinction from “marking”. Examining the Scriptures that the Watchtower uses to justify disfellowshipping makes it apparent that the Watchtower application of marking is more closely aligned with what the Christian writers prescribed for wrongdoers.

Jesus himself introduced the standard on how wrongdoers should be treated, saying at Matthew 18:15-17 “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 every 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 and as a tax collector.”

Jesus did not say to never utter a word to an unrepentant wrong doer but to treat them “as a tax collector”. He himself spoke to and ate with tax collectors. (Matthew 9:11).

The majority of information on how to treat wrongdoers within the congregation comes from Paul. Paul showed a balanced approach advising not to socialise with a wrongdoer but to still ‘admonish as a brother’. 2 Thessalonians is key to understanding that wrongdoers should be marked, not disfellowshipped.

2 Thessalonians 3:6, 14-15 “Now we are giving YOU orders, brothers, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, to withdraw from every brother walking disorderly and not according to the tradition YOU received from us…. 14 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. 15 And yet do not be considering him as an enemy, but continue admonishing him as a brother.”

The “word through this letter” at 2 Thessalonians included those not glorifying “the name of our Lord Jesus”, those refusing to work for a living, and any who had been seduced by apostasy. Paul did not say to disfellowship such people, but rather instructed the congregation to ‘mark’ or ‘take note of’ such a person, yet “continue admonishing him as a brother”. Hence Paul did not indicate that marking was only for non-serious sin.

At 1 Corinthians 5, Paul specifically outlined practices for which to cease ‘mixing’ with a brother. Yet this too is similar to the advice given when marking a brother.

1 Corinthians 5:11-13 “"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. For what do I have to do with judging those outside? Do YOU not judge those inside, while God judges those outside? “Remove the wicked [man] from among yourselves.””"

1 Corinthians does not say to totally shun a brother who is a wrong doer, rather it says to ‘quit mixing in company’ with such a person and ‘not eat with’ such a man and hence refers to socialising as friends.

This statement does not state that this type of person must never be spoken to, and is specific as to who these words apply to. This advice is in regards to a person ‘called a brother’ who ‘is’ a wrongdoer. No indication is given that they should be avoided many years later when they are no longer recognised as a Jehovah’s Witness. Nor does it say to shun a person who has stopped their wrongdoing. It is regularly the case that a teenage Witness is disfellowshipped for smoking or fornication. Years later they no longer practice the sin they were disfellowshipped for and are no longer known in the community as a brother, and so their continued shunning is unjustified.

Watchtower policy on the treatment of every disfellowshipped Jehovah’s Witness is not based on any of the above scriptures, but rather on a single statement at 2 John 7-11;

"“For many deceivers have gone forth into the world, persons not confessing Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is the deceiver and the antichrist. Look out for yourselves, that YOU do not lose the things we have worked to produce, but that YOU may obtain a full reward. 9 Everyone that pushes ahead and does not remain in the teaching of the Christ does not have God. He that does remain in this teaching is the one that has both the Father and the Son. 10 If anyone comes to YOU and does not bring this teaching, never receive him into YOUR homes or say a greeting to him. 11 For he that says a greeting to him is a sharer in his wicked works.”"

2 John is referring to the Antichrist and should not be applied across the board to all form a sin as done by the Watchtower Society. Importantly, John'’s advice here was not limited to former Christians. It included ‘anyone’ denying Christ. This included Jews that rejected Jesus and people of the nations worshipping other Gods. Yet the Watchtower stance is to apply this only to Jehovah's Witnesses.

The meaning of the phrase “never receive him into YOUR homes” should be understood in the context of the hospitality of first century Jerusalem. Since Christians held congregation meetings in their homes John possibly felt that inviting a denier of Christ into a home could be viewed as sharing worship with non-Christians.

Likewise the term to never “say a greeting” to him needs to be understood in light of first century practice. It is wrong for the Watchtower to claims that John used the term ‘a greeting’ to indicate a simple hello.

"“John here used khai´ro, which was a greeting like “good day” or “hello.” (Acts 15:23; Matthew 28:9) He did not use a·spa´zo·mai (as in verse 13), which means “to enfold in the arms, thus to greet, to welcome” and may have implied a very warm greeting, even with an embrace. (Luke 10:4; 11:43; Acts 20:1, 37; 1 Thessalonians 5:26) So the direction at 2 John 11 could well mean not to say even “hello” to such ones." ”Watchtower 1988 May 15 p.27

This article claims the word khairo is used to forbid a simple greeting, instead of aspazomai which means a more affectionate embrace, enfolding in the arms, kiss, greeting or welcome. The writer seems to be confused as the very opposite is true. Strong’s states;

  • 5463 chairo {khah'-ee-ro} 1) to rejoice, be glad 2) to rejoice exceedingly 3) to be well, thrive 4) in salutations, hail! 5) at the beginning of letters: to give one greeting, salute
  • 783 aspasmos {as-pas-mos’} 1) a salutation, either oral or written

2 John does not indicate a polite greeting is wrong. John here shows that a person is a sharer in the Antichrist’s wicked works if he shows acceptance and agreement with the evildoers cause or teachings, or wishes them favour and success.

The Watchtower Society uses this single scripture in 2 John to dictate that every disfellowshipped or disassociated person should not even be politely greeted. This is applied regardless of what the person was disfellowshipped for, including a long list of Society originated rules such as gambling, smoking, or authorising a blood transfusion. Every single one of a disfellowshipped person’s Witness friends is told to never greet them again, unless they repent and are formally reinstated by the Watchtower Society. I am aware of friends whose own mothers or their own children have not spoken to them for upwards of 20 years. Yet such shunning is only ever discussed once, was only to apply to the Antichrist, and is being misused to its extremity.

Watchtower Rules on Treating those Disfellowshipped

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 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.

Total avoidance of the member is extended beyond members of the congregation and to ones immediate family. Below are quotes from a number of articles on the treatment of disfellowshipped members and how they are to be viewed.

"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.

"Cooperating with the Scriptural arrangement to disfellowship and shun unrepentant wrongdoers is beneficial." Kingdom Ministry 2002 Aug 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… 14 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... 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

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

Historical Watchtower Development

Disfellowshipping was not practiced in its current form by the Watchtower Society until 1952. Originally, the congregation as a whole discussed an individual's wrongdoing and if they came to a near unanimous decision to disfellowship, the unrepentant sinner was not shunned but treated as a heathen.

"The administration of discipline is not the function of the elders only, but of the entire Church. … Thus it is evident that the Elders were in no sense to be judges of the members-hearing and judgment were left to the local body, or Church. … Indeed, even if the transgressor refuse to hear (obey) the decision of the entire Church, no punishment is to be inflicted or even attempted. What then? Merely the Church is to withdraw from him its fellowship and any and all signs or manifestations of brotherhood. Thenceforth the offender is to be treated "as a heathen man and a publican."" Studies Series VI - The New Creation pp.289, 290

It was recognised that that making all followers think alike on doctrine through threats to disfellowship is a method of control.

“"Satan's organization sails under the high-sounding name of "Christendom". It boasts of a membership of over 500,000,000 persons. Its members are in bondage to creeds, customs, rites and ceremonies; they dare not disown these or criticize or expose them. To do so would bring down on their heads taunts, reproaches, disfellowship and persecution. Many thousands of the Lords people are held in these denominations as prisoners, afraid to express their disapproval of the creeds, methods and customs of the organization.”" Watchtower 1930 Oct 1 p.301 

Knorr set up the disfellowshipping arrangement followed to this day, moving responsibility to judge an individual from the congregation to judicial committees in Watchtower 1944 May 15 p.151. In 1952 a Watchtower Mar 1 was devoted to delivering clear guidelines regarding shunning and clarifying what was to become an ever increasing list of offences.

Since the introduction of disfellowshipping there have been a number of changes in Watchtower doctrine and hence the reasons for being disfellowshipped have also changed back and forth. How can this occur if an organization'’s rules are directed by Jehovah? 

For instance, the practice of smoking did not become a disfellowshipping offence until 1973. Having an organ transplant was an offence worthy of being disfellowshipped for over a decade, but is no longer viewed as wrong.

Oral or anal sex between married couples was classified as;

  • a disfellowshipping offence - Watchtower 1974 Nov 15 p.704
  • no longer an offence - Watchtower 1978 Feb 15 pp.30-32
  • once again an offence - Watchtower 1983 Mar 15 p.31

Watchtower Reasons for Disfellowshipping

Bible discussion of limiting contact with a person at the Scriptures mentioned above is limited to just the following areas; Fornication, Greed, idolatry, Revilers, Practicing Drunkenness, Extortion, Blasphemy and One who does not remain in the teaching of the Christ. This list should be the full extent of reasons for congregation action. In fact, Diotrephes was reprimanded for attempting to throw people out of the congregation unnecessarily.

3 John 9,10 "“I wrote something to the congregation, but Di·ot´re·phes, who likes to have the first place among them, does not receive anything from us with respect. That is why, if I come, I will call to remembrance his works which he goes on doing, chattering about us with wicked words. Also, not being content with these things, neither does he himself receive the brothers with respect, and those who are wanting to receive them he tries to hinder and to throw out of the congregation.”"

The Watchtower has created a vast list of offences for which a Jehovah’s Witness can be disfellowshipped or disassociated. The following abbreviations have been used for the publications referenced.

Kingdom Ministry (km) Watchtower (w) Jehovah’s Witnesses - Proclaimers of God’s Kingdom (1993) (jv) Pay Attention to Yourselves and to All the Flock (ks91-E) Organised to Accomplish Our Ministry (om) Insight on the Scriptures, Volume 1 or 2 (it-1 or 2)

  • Adultery (sexual intercourse with a person other than your marriage mate), includes;
    • abandoning wife and eloping with another woman - w79 11/15 31-2, w76 p.728
    • planned adultery to break Scriptural marriage ties - w83 3/15 p.29
    • remarriage without Scriptural permission - w56 10/1 p.597
    • polygamy - jv 176
    • dating a person not legally divorced - ks91-E p.135
  • Apostasy - w83 4/1 pp.22-4, km 8/80 pp.1, 4. includes;
  • rebellion against Jehovah’s organization - w63 7/1
  • promoting sects - it-2 886
  • Associating with disfellowshipped people including;
    • friends - ks91-E p.103, w81 9/15 pp.25-6, w55 10/1 p.607
    • family - ks91-E p.103
  • Blood and blood transfusions - w61 1/15 ks91-E p.95, jv p.183-4
  • Drug use - ks91-E p.96
  • Drunkenness - ks91-E p.95, it-1 656
  • Dishonest business practices - w63 7/1, w86 11/15 14
  • Employment violating Christian principles - km 9/76 p.6, km 2/74
    • working for any religious organization - ks91-E p.95
    • working in a gambling institution - ks91-E p.136
    • selling tobacco - ks91-E p.96
    • contract work at a military establishment
  • False worship. Includes;
    • attending another church ks91-E p.94
    • following mourning customs that involve false worship - w85 4/15 p.25
  • Fornication it-1 863
    • bestiality - w83 6/1 p.25
    • incestuous marriage - w78 3/15 p.26
    • artificial insemination – g74 8/8 p.28
    • sexual abuse of children - g93 10/8 p.10Reviling - ks91-E p.94, w96 7/15 pp.17-18; it-1 p.991; it-2 p.802
  • Fraud - ks91-E p.94, om pp.142-3
  • Gambling or related employment - w80 9/1, ks91-E p.136
  • Gluttony - w86 5/1
  • Greediness, this in used to include;
    • gambling ks91-E p.95
    • extortion ks91-E p.95, w89 1/15 22, it-1 p.789
    • greed in relation to bride-price: w98 9/15 p.25
  • Homosexuality - w83 6/1 pp.24-6
  • Idolatry - w52 3/1 p.138
  • Loose conduct - ks91-E pp.93, 96, w83 3/15 p.31, w73 9/15 p.574, it-2 p.264, ks91-E p.93, w83 3/15 p.31, w73 9/15 pp.574-6, w97 9/1 p.14, it-2 p.246. The principle of loose conduct is used to disfellowship for;
  • disregard for Jehovah's moral standards
  • disrespect, disregard or even contempt for standards, laws and authority, and as such is used to cover all manner of sins, such as refusal to cease fellowship with disfellowshipped people and showing disrespect to elders
  • Lying - ks91-E p.94, g00 2/8 p.21
  • Non neutral activities (involvement in politics and the military) - ks91-E p.96
  • Military service and non military service including working casual work (certain civilian work has recently been made a conscience matter w96 5/1 p.20) - ks91-E p.96
  • Obscene speech - ks91-E p.95
  • Parents condoning immorality - w56 p.566
  • Political involvement, including voting or holding a political card in Malawi - ks91-E p.96 John 6:15 Therefore Jesus, knowing they were about to come and seize him to make him king, withdrew again into the mountain all alone. (w99 11/1p.28 made this a conscience matter)
  • Porneia. “It includes oral and anal sex or mutual masturbation between persons not married to each other, homosexuality, lesbianism, fornication, adultery, incest, and bestiality.” - ks91-E p.93
  • Slander - ks91-E p.94, w63 7/1, w89 10/15 p.14, om p.142
  • Smoking or selling tobacco - km 2/74, ks91-E p.96
  • Spiritism (includes yoga w02 8/1 p.22) - w55 10/1 p.607
  • Stealing, thievery - om pp.142-5, ks91-E p.94
  • Subversive activity - w95 10/1 p.31
  • Uncleanness
  • sexually ‘perverse’ practices within marriage, such as oral and anal sex - w83 3/15 p.31
  • heavy petting and breast fondling - ks91-E p.92
  • touching of sexual parts - ks91-E p.91
  • Violation of secular law if flagrant attitude - w86 10/1 p.31
  • Violence, extreme physical abuse, fits of anger - ks91-E p.96, w75 p.287, g01 11/8 p.12
    • Includes Boxing w81 7/1 pp.30-1, ks91-E p.142
  • Wilful non support of family, endangerment of mate’s spirituality - w88 11/1 pp.22-3, km 9/73 p.8, ks91-E p.95
  • Worldly celebrations such as Christmas - ks91-E p.95 (It appears celebrating birthdays is not a reason to be disfellowshipped)

"Shepherd the Flock of God" (2010)

In 2010, the latest Elder's book was released. This book largely deals with rules around disfellowshipping, and following is a summary of chapter 5 - "Determining Whether a Judicial Committee Should Be Formed" - which lists reasons for which a person can be disfellowshipped.

Manslaughter:” p.59

  • Murder or “loss of life through carelessness or violating a traffic law”
  • "Attempted Suicide"

"Por.nei’a: p.59”
      “immoral use of the genitals … with lewd intent.”

Brazen conduct, loose conduct: pp.60,61”
      “an insolent, contemptuous attitude made evident by a practice of these things:”

  • “unnecessary association with disfellowshipped nonrelatives”
  • “child sexual abuse”
  • “pursue a romantic relationship with a person though not legally or Scripturally free to marry”
  • “stayed all night in the same house with a person of the opposite sex (or in the same house with a known homosexual) under improper circumstances”

Gross uncleanness, uncleanness with greediness:” pp.61-65
     “vices that are not classes as por.nei’a but that could lead to one’s being disqualified from God’s Kingdom."

  • “Passion-arousing heavy petting or caressing of breast”
  • “A practice of engaging in immoral conversations by telephone, in Internet chat rooms, or through similar electronic means”
  • “An entrenched practice of viewing … abhorrent forms of pornography that is sexually degrading”
  • “Misuse of tobacco”
  • “Extreme physical uncleanness”

Misuse of addictive drugs:” p.65

Apostasy:” pp.65,66

  • “Celebrating false religious holidays”
  • “Participation in interfaith activities”
  • “Deliberately spreading teachings contrary to Bible truth as taught by Jehovah’s Witnesses”
  • “Causing divisions and promoting sects”
  • “Continuing in employment that makes on an accomplice to or a promoter of false worship”
  • “The practice of spiritism”
  • “Idolatry”

Drunkenness:” p.66

Gluttony:” p.67

Stealing, thievery:” p.67

Deliberate, malicious lying; bearing false witness:” p.67

Fraud, slander:” p.67

Reviling:” p.68
      “subjecting a person to insulting speech, heaping abuse upon him.”

Obscene speech:” p.69

Greed – gambling, extortion: pp.69,70”
      Includes “A Christian who greedily and unrepentantly extorts a high bride-price”

Adamant refusal to provide materially for one’s own family:” p.70

Fits of anger, violence: p.70”
     Includes “professional boxing”

Unscriptural Process

The process Jehovah's Witnesses follow for disfellowshipping strays from biblical principles in a number of areas.

Reasons not Mentioned in the Bible

There should always be clear Scriptural reason for disfellowshipping. John reprimands Diotrephes for attempting to disfellowship people unnecessarily.

3 John 9-10 "I wrote something to the congregation, but Di·ot´re·phes, who likes to have the first place among them, does not receive anything from us with respect. That is why, if I come, I will call to remembrance his works which he goes on doing, chattering about us with wicked words. Also, not being content with these things, neither does he himself receive the brothers with respect, and those who are wanting to receive them he tries to hinder and to throw out of the congregation."

Bible discussion of shunning by Paul and John is limited to just the following areas; Fornication, Greed, idolatry, Revilers, Practicing Drunkenness, Extortion, Blasphemy and One who does not remain in the teaching of the Christ. Revelation21:8 does not relate to shunning but at a stretch could be drawn on, and adds adultery, men kept for unnatural purposes, men who lie with men, thieves, cowards, those without faith, those disgusting in their filth, murderers, spiritism, and liars. This list should be the full extent of reasons for which to be disfellowshipped. The long list of Watchtower offences includes a number of practices never mentioned in regards to shunning, such as use of blood. However, the Watchtower goes even further. Common practices never specified in the Bible as sins have become grounds for being disfellowshipped. These include:

  • Oral and anal sex
  • Gambling - common throughout history, such as the casting of lots over Jesus clothing
  • Use of Drugs such as marijuana - in common use in the first century
  • Celebrations - Romans 14:1-18 specifically says not to judge anyone over the observance of days

If Jehovah wanted his followers to shun those for engaging in these common practices, the Bible would state so. Should the Society be creating disfellowshipping decrees beyond Bible offences? Of course not! Jesus condemned the Pharisees for creating thousands of laws for every situation, rather than promoting Godly principles and understanding the meaning of mercy. When a Pharisee expressed surprise that Jesus did not do ritual washing before dinner, Jesus' rebuke was particularly harsh.

Luke 11:42 "'But woe to YOU Pharisees, because YOU give the tenth of the mint and the rue and of every [other] vegetable, but YOU pass by the justice and the love of God!" (see also Matthew 12:1-10)

Matthew 12:7 "“However, if YOU had understood what this means, ‘I want mercy, and not sacrifice,’ YOU would not have condemned the guiltless ones.”"

If God spoke directly to the Governing Body as he did with the Apostles and they were infallible, then it may have authority to add to the scriptures. By their admission this is not the case. The Governing Body is not infallible and not inspired by God to write additional rules that do not appear in the Bible. For this reason the list should be based strictly on scriptures.

Behind closed doors

In determining if a person should be disfellowshipped, the elders form a judicial committee to meet with the ‘wrongdoer’. This is done in private, and the wrongdoer is not allowed an onlooker, lawyer or recording device.

Both the Israelites and early Christian congregations kept matters open to ordinary persons. Rather than being done in private in front of elders only, matters were done at the city gates so a fair discussion with onlookers could be made. This prevented the injustice that can take place before small closed bodies of elders.

"“The Bible regulations and accounts indicate that cases of wrongdoing came before the city elders at the gates primarily when controversies were involved, as in cases where an offender would not acknowledge having wronged another, and also when the community as a whole was seriously affected or endangered by the wrongdoing.”" Watchtower 1976 Dec 1 p.732

Reasons hidden

When the person was disfellowshipped or publicly reproved the congregation was to know why. Paul openly told the congregation of the wrong conduct of Peter, Hymenaeus, Alexander and Diotrephes. To avoid legal problems, the Society does not follow this scriptural advice. The extent of both the disfellowshipping and disassociating announcement is now stated in Organised to do Jehovah’s Will (2005) p.154 to be restricted to; “[Name of person] is no longer one of Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Family

A former Jehovah’s Witness recalls:

“I was told that I could not speak with my own daughter due to sins for which she had been disfellowshipped, leveling an idiotic assumption that I was not mature enough to resist the potential gravity of her sinful life, and needed protection. For God's sake - she had sex without being married - nothing more or less. She was no danger to me or my integrity. And I was her father, the one she was supposed to turn to at times of need. At the time she needed the most support to get over 'normal human adolescent confusion and hormonal overkill' I was supposed to treat her as if she was 'dead'. was told that I could not speak with my own daughter due to sins for which she had been disfellowshipped, leveling an idiotic assumption that I was not mature enough to resist the potential gravity of her sinful life, and needed protection. For God's sake - she had sex without being married - nothing more or less. She was no danger to me or my integrity. And I was her father, the one she was supposed to turn to at times of need. At the time she needed the most support to get over 'normal human adolescent confusion and hormonal overkill' I was supposed to treat her as if she was 'dead'.

The New Testament never specifically extends shunning to immediate family members. Rather Paul stated at 1 Timothy 5:8;

"”Certainly if anyone does not provide for those who are his own, and especially for those who are members of his household, he has disowned the faith and is worse than a person without faith."”

Reinstatement Procedures

Nowhere in the Bible does it discuss a detailed process for reinstatement, nor give a timeframe in regards to how long before reinstatement can take place. Paul simply stated that a person who ‘is’ a wrongdoer should be avoided. When they are no longer practicing the wrongdoing there is no reason to keep shunning them. The Watchtower specifies a period of time to pass, even though acknowledging the Christian example allows for shorter periods.

"“If these necessary evidences of sorrow and change are present, then his reinstatement could be considered by the congregation committee after sufficient time had elapsed, which in most cases is at least a year.”" Watchtower 1963 Aug 1 p.473

"Although it seems that the wrongdoer in Corinth was reinstated within a relatively short period of time, this is not to be used as a standard for all disfellowshippings.”" Watchtower 1998 Oct 1 p.18

Though the Scriptures give no legalistic approach to determine when a wrongdoer is to be associated with the Watchtower Society has developed a formalistic procedure for determining if a person is worthy of having their disfellowshipped status removed. They must attend meetings regularly for several months whilst being shunned before an application for reinstatement will be considered. After this they must be examined by the elders to determine if they have ceased the wrongdoing and have a repentant attitude. Once this is determined a public announcement is made. Only after this procedure and announcement are family members and others within the congregation free to talk to that person.

Once reinstated more rules have been created to outline what activities they may participate in. Over time they will be allowed to resume field service, then answering at meetings, then giving talks. It will be several years before they finally are in line for privileges such as pioneering or being considered a Ministerial Servant. 

"“Restrictions should be imposed to help the person see the need of continuing to make 'straight paths for his feet' and also out of consideration for the congregation's conscience.”" Pay Attention to Yourselves and to All the Flock p.131

"“A full year must have passed from the time a judicial reproof was given or since reinstatement following disfellowshipping before one could be considered for auxiliary or regular pioneer service.”" Kingdom Ministry 1986 Aug p.6 

“"If at one time a person had been disfellowshiped or disassociated, may he ever give a public talk? This might occur, but only after at least ten years from reinstatement." Kingdom Ministry 1970 Dec p.4 

The Bible writers gave no such rules.

Baptized without understanding

Since 1985 the second Jehovah’s Witness baptism vow became;

"Do you understand that your dedication and baptism identify you as one of Jehovah's Witnesses in association with God's spirit-directed organization?”" Watchtower 1985 Jun 1 p.30

At baptism a person commits themselves to the Watchtower Organization, despite the word organization never appearing in the Bible. When a person is baptised very few have even an inkling of the true history of the religion. No person that gets baptised has any idea of the full list of things that they could be disfellowshipped for, as this list is unattainable, and many of the reasons are not specified in the Bible. The most succinct list is from Shepherd the Flock of God and letters from the Society, each of which is only accessible to elders. 

Minors

It is particularly disturbing that the Watchtower encourages children raised as Jehovah’s Witnesses to be baptised as minors. Even a pre-teenage child can get baptised and for the remainder of their life be subject to the principle of being disfellowshipped.

"In the summer of 1946, I was baptized at the international convention in Cleveland, Ohio. Although I was only six years of age, I was determined to fulfill my dedication to Jehovah.”" Watchtower 1992 Mar 1 p.27

Baptism as a Jehovah'’s Witness is a binding verbal contract with the Watchtower Society and as such baptising minors is wrong both legally and Scripturally. Never is the baptism of a minor mentioned in the Bible. Jesus was not baptised until he was 30 and Jews felt a person became an adult at 30. When Cornelius and his family were baptised it does not state that any non adults were baptised and there is no Scriptural evidence of any children or teenagers ever being baptised. A child'’s knowledge and ideas change dramatically between the teens and twenties, and for this reason the law protects the rights of minors. A minor is usually not permitted by law to enter contracts, drink, vote, join the army or marry.

When a person baptised as a minor chooses they no longer wish to be known as a Jehovah’'s Witness they are regularly disfellowshipped. Once this happens that teenager may not associate freely with family or friends for the remainder of their life! Even a person that is still a child they can be disfellowshipped.

"“When a baptized minor becomes involved in wrongdoing that threatens the cleanness of the congregation, the assigned committee should meet with such individual just as they would with any other member of the congregation." Pay Attention to Yourself and to All the Flock p.98”

Conclusion

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 and Scientologists; with only the Amish imposing this principle with more destructive effects.

Hundreds of thousands of Witnesses are currently disfellowshipped and estranged from their families and friends. This has a dramatic effect on a person, often at a time when they most need help from others.

The Watchtower Society claims love is one of its distinguishing factors and that Jehovah’s Witnesses are a loving brotherhood. Total alienation from this brotherhood and being cast into the world builds fear of removal. At first glance this may seem justifiable. A comparison between how the Bible says to treat wrongdoers with how the Watchtower enforces disfellowshipping shows the Organization has gone beyond the scriptures, using this for control over its members. One of Jesus’ greatest commands was to show love to one’s brother and to one’s neighbour (Luke 10:27). The doctrine on disfellowshipping puts serious question marks over any claim of love that Jehovah'’s Witnesses attempt to make.


Footnotes:

(1) Watchtower 1992 Jul 1 p.19 "In recent years disfellowshippings worldwide have been approximately 1 percent of publishers."

(2) Statistics provided in Watchtower 1974 Aug 1 p.466 and Watchtower 1960 Dec 1 p.728 indicate that roughly only 1/3 return.

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