Disfellowshipping and Disassociation

Disfellowshipping and Disassociation
Source: jw.org

How Jehovah's Witnesses Claim Disfellowshipping Is a Loving Provision

The Watchtower, May 15, 2015 pp. 29-32

“If one of Jehovah’s Witnesses who is baptized commits a serious sin and does not repent, he will be disfellowshipped … If the elders on a judicial committee do not discern that the person is truly repentant, then he must be disfellowshipped.”

Source: JW.org

Question for Readers

Who determines repentance:
The penitent or the elders?

Undue Influence

“54. … Does distancing oneself from the congregation have consequences? [..]

“55. There are … religious consequences if a person withdraws. When a person distances himself from the congregation, he formally renounces his spiritual position as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Withdrawal is a conscious act initiated by someone who belongs to the church … [choosing] … to break his spiritual ties to the congregation […].

“56. What about the social ties? As part of Jehovah’s Witnesses’ religious beliefs and practices, they follow the Bible’s admonition to limit or stop associating with people who reject or leave their religion … However, the only information given to the congregation is this: “[The person’s name] is no longer one of Jehovah’s Witnesses.” Nothing else is said about him.

“57. The congregation has no control over how the individual in the congregation applies biblical principles to stop associating with him. It is up to each individual in the congregation to use their personal religious conscience to determine whether or not they want to limit contact with a person who has withdrawn, just as they would relate to a person who is disfellowshipped. The religious community does not control, nor can it control, whether those who belong to congregations answer calls from someone who has withdrawn, drink coffee with them, eat a meal with them, or greet them on the street. Each individual in the congregation who limits or ceases to socialize with a person who has withdrawn, does so voluntarily and of his own volition, based on their own religious conscience.” (Emphasis ours)

Source: Letter from Norwegian Jehovah’s Witnesses to State Administrator in Oslo and Viken

Can Jehovah’s Witnesses choose to speak with expelled members without consequence?

Shepherd the Flock of God, a textbook for elders on how to deal with judicial matters among other things, states: 

Unnecessary Association With Disfellowshipped or Disassociated Individuals: Willful, continued, unnecessary association with disfellowshipped or disassociated nonrelatives despite repeated counsel would warrant judicial action.

If a publisher in the congregation is known to have unnecessary association with disfellowshipped or disassociated relatives who are not in the household, elders should … counsel and reason with him. […] He would not be dealt with judicially unless there is persistent spiritual association or he persists in openly criticizing the disfellowshipping decision.  (12.17)

Considering what the Shepherd book says in Chapter 12:17, one is not using their “personal religious conscience” to decide to speak with disfellowshipped or disassociated persons if there are consequences for doing so. This is known as undue influence.

Family Relationships

What of a man who is disfellowshipped but whose wife and children are still Jehovah’s Witnesses? The religious ties he had with his family change, but blood ties remain. The marriage relationship and normal family affections and dealings continue. (emphasis ours)

Source: JW.org

62. … it is important to reiterate that the “religious ties” between the disfellowshipped or the withdrawn and the “family change, but blood ties remain. The marriage relationship and normal family affections and dealings continue. ” In other words, regular family relationships and togetherness will continue. (emphasis ours)

Source:  Letter from Norwegian Jehovah’s Witnesses to State Administrator in Oslo and Viken

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.

[…]

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. (emphasis ours)

Source:  JW.org

Do normal family affections and dealings continue when someone is disfellowshipped or disassociated?

In the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) section of JW.org, which contains white-washed details about Jehovah’s Witnesses beliefs and practices, it claims that they do. 

And in a letter dated February 17, 2022, from the Norwegian Jehovah’s Witnesses to the State Administrator in Oslo and Viken they refer to their FAQ and re-iterate that normal family affections continue.

However, in their Study Edition of The Watchtower dated April 15, 2011, the writers instruct their members not to have contact with anyone who is disfellowshipped. Using an unsubstantiated example of a family of a young man who was expelled, they are described as being “steadfast” in not having contact with him. 

If Jehovah’s Witnesses are telling the public that normal family affections continue, and they are telling governments and courts the same, why are the writers of The Watchtower telling their believers to do otherwise? Being ambiguous or repeating something does not make it true.

The Impact of Shunning

In many cases, disfellowshipping provides the discipline the erring one needs. After some ten years, Julian’s son, mentioned at the outset, cleaned up his life, returned to the congregation, and now serves as an elder. “Being disfellowshipped brought me face-to-face with the consequences of my lifestyle,” he admits. “I needed that sort of discipline.” […] Family members can show love for the congregation and the erring one by respecting the disfellowshipping decision. “He was still my son,” explains Julian, “but his lifestyle had put up a barrier between us.” (emphasis ours)

Source: JW.org 

46. […] A person is completely free to leave Jehovah’s Witnesses whenever he or she so desires … Each year, thousands of people worldwide choose to be baptized as Jehovah’s Witnesses. Every year, thousands also choose to leave the faith, and they are not prevented from doing so. The two or possibly three dissatisfied former Witnesses who have complained about Jehovah’s Witnesses represent a small minority. They in no way represent all those who have peacefully broken their bonds with the church. (emphasis ours)

Source: Letter from Norwegian Jehovah’s Witnesses to State Administrator in Oslo and Viken

Jehovah’s Witnesses continually make the claim that someone who leaves the religious group, whether of their own volition or is expelled, one does so to pursue an immoral lifestyle. While some Jehovah’s Witnesses may leave the group to pursue a life of immorality, that is not true for many former believers. Many just want to lead an ordinary life as grown adults without the control and imposition of over-arching rules from the religious group. 

To leave Jehovah’s Witnesses is not about lifestyle, it is about religious choice, as laid down in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the European Constitution of Human rights, and enshrined in many of State Constitutions of countries around the world.

Jehovah’s Witnesses use an ad hominen attack and a strawman fallacy in an attempt to minimize the impact of shunning on expelled members. 

Firstly, the individuals they describe as “dissatisfied former Witnesses” are dissatisfied for a reason. Secondly, while these individuals do not represent all who left Jehovah’s Witnesses, they do represent a large cohort as is testament to the responses from former believing members below. 

Note: The comments above were requested from persons on Reddit, Twitter and Facebook who have been impacted by Jehovah’s Witnesses’ shunning policy. In an effort to avoid bias or propaganda, no person was pressured or coerced to provide their comment. Nor were they asked to provide only a negative or positive comment. For comparison, see a letter issued in 2020 by a Circuit Overseer (Bishop) to Bodies of Elders in Wales: Download letter

Further Reading

2 Responses

  1. 455 Members of my JW family shun me as if dead. I was a baptized JW for over 30 years. Upon research found out the truth about “the truth”. I left.

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