2023 Convention – Saturday Afternoon Review

“When people think of shunning, they relate it to a practice of cutting people off as if a person were dead. That is hardly the definition of shunning that many have in mind when they hear the word.” –  2022 Media Relations Manual

WARNING – This Convention Review contain media and material that discusses shunning and ostracism as a harmful practice. Reader discretion is advised.

Reader Advisory – This Convention Review is lengthy. Please use the Table of Contents and the “Return to Table of Contents” buttons for easy navigation.

Written by Lester Somrah - February 17, 2024

Table of Contents

Why Beware of Instant Gratification?

In this first lecture of the Saturday Afternoon session, the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses provides pastoral counselling on avoiding three (3) common areas of gratification:

  • Pornography
  • Marrying someone spiritually weak
  • Money


The Governing Body uses 1 Thessalonians 4:3-5 to condemn the viewing of pornography and likened it to “uncontrolled sexual passion” [verse 5, New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures (Study Edition)]. Individuals who behave in such manner are condemned as animals and the only solution for this is “using the publications and literature provided by theGoverning Body” of Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Now only Jehovah’s Witnesses use the term, “uncontrolled sexual passion”. Other bible translations use “selfish lust” (The Jerusalem Bible); “passion of desire” (Byington). No Greek word exist in the scriptures for modern words such as compulsive sexual behavior, hypersexuality or sexual addiction as these behaviors were not recognized by the pagan Romans of the 1st century. 

The author of 1 Thessalonians 4:3-5 was only concerned about the purity of the Thessalonica believers who lived in a sexually charged culture in 51 C.E. Unfortunately in 2023, Jehovah’s Witnesses are exactly the same way!! 

Nowhere in their religious literature are found any modern words that describe an abnormal obsession with sexual activities - compulsive sexual behavior, hypersexuality or sexual addiction. Furthermore, nowhere in their religious literature are found any recommendations for professional assessment, therapy and counselling for individual Jehovah’s Witnesses who exhibit “uncontrolled sexual passion”. 

Church members who have “uncontrolled sexual passion” are simply expelled/disfellowshipped from the Jehovah’s Witness community. The only help these individuals receive are the reading of a few bible passages and nothing more. As an example, I personally know one such individual who was branded as a “womanizer”; hide himself at large gatherings of Jehovah’s Witnesses and later on faced the dismissive attitudes of his local congregation elders who were extremely stubborn to re-admit (re-instate) him into the Jehovah’s Witness community.

Marrying someone spiritually weak

Most of eligible Jehovah’s Witnesses are single female congregation publishers known as “single sisters”. Thus the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses directs the following advice to “single sisters” although it equally applies to eligible male publishers.

The Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses uses 1 Corinthians 7:39 to condemn “entering into a relationship or develop a relationship with an unbeliever [a non - Jehovah’s Witnesses]”. The Governing Body claims that this can “cause and produce a lifetime of heartache.”

At this 2023 Convention, the Governing Body takes 1 Corinthians 7:39 a step further to condemn “entering into a relationship or developing a relationship with someone who is spiritually weak or marrying this person.” The Governing Body states that this is an “unwise” decision and further claims that church members who do so are “are living in anguish, not because they married out of the truth, but because they married a believer whose faith was fragile, whose appreciation for spiritual things was shallow and whose love for Jehovah was marginal.”

Eligible Jehovah’s Witnesses are advised to “wait until you can marry a person with genuine devotion to Jehovah and Jehovah's ways.”

Here again Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses, just with Jehovah’s Witnesses who exhibit “uncontrolled sexual passion” described above, are only concerned with the purity and continuity of their religion. The statement “wait until you can marry a person with genuine devotion to Jehovah and Jehovah's ways” is essentially saying “we are only interested in ensuring the longevity of our faith and the perpetuation of our religious beliefs”.

Again, nowhere in their religious literature are found any empathy and concern for young women who are seriously considering having their own family within their child-bearing age.

Put simply the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses only care about their religion.

As I mentioned in the Saturday Morning Review of this Convention, the advice given on Marrying someone spiritually weak highlights a growing fear of the Governing Body that having non - Jehovah’s Witness friends and associates may cause a Jehovah’s Witness to question and abandon their religious beliefs.

“Entering into a relationship or developing a relationship with someone who is spiritually weak or marrying this person” can threaten the faith and religious beliefs of Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Marrying a fellow Jehovah’s Witness – A Wise Decision??

Entering into marriage with a fellow Jehovah’s Witness solely based on shared religious values does not guarantee resilience in the face of life's challenges. The belief among many single Jehovah’s Witnesses that aligning religious beliefs ensures a smooth journey post-wedding is a common misconception.

In certain marriages among Jehovah’s Witnesses, one spouse may display narcissistic and abusive tendencies, encompassing both physical and emotional harm. Compounded by the religious beliefs of Jehovah’s Witnesses regarding marriage, the victimized spouse often finds themselves with limited or no viable options. Accounts from former Jehovah’s Witnesses who endured such abuse reveal a distressing pattern: when seeking assistance from congregation elders, the support provided was minimal, typically limited to offering a few Bible passages and, disconcertingly, sometimes even siding with the abusive partner

The reality is that some marriages of Jehovah’s Witnesses do fail and end up in divorce. I can count about 10 Jehovah’s Witness marriages for the most, that I know failed and ended in divorce, during my time as a Jehovah’s Witness in Trinidad and Tobago. – See Saturday Morning Review of this Convention. 


The Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses uses 1 Timothy 6:6 to encourage convention attendees to be content with their material possessions and lot in life. Attendees are strongly discouraging from looking at the "good life" of other Jehovah’s Witnesses and desiring to improving their own lives.

Jehovah’s Witnesses are told that "contentment is the ability to feel satisfied even though some of our desires are not fulfilled. Feeling satisfied even though some of your desires are not fulfilled is a key to happiness and it is also a key to avoiding the snare of instant gratification."

The Governing Body highlights their interpretation of "contentment" in a video presentation in which a female Jehovah’s Witness who is a single parent, is faced with economic challenges to make ends meet. She is offered a job promotion that can improve her circumstances, but turns it down in favor of prioritizing religious activities with Jehovah’s Witnesses. Her congregation elders and the Governing Body are certainly not going to pay her bills. The video also promotes putting the religious beliefs of Jehovah’s Witness ahead of one’s individual needs by highlighting the struggles of a Jehovah’s Witness widower and teenager who are both offered opportunities for companionship with non-Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Resist the Appeal of Instant Gratification

The Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses then describes three (3) ways that individual Jehovah’s Witnesses can prepare to resist the appeal of instant gratification.

  • Reading – And not just reading any material, but reading only religious material approved and produced by Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses, as the latter “is a stress reducer”
  • “Look forward to Paradise” - looking forward to and counting on that new world.
  • Prayer

All three ways above does not benefit individual Jehovah’s Witnesses who have “uncontrolled sexual passion”, desiring a spouse; or an additional source of income to support their families. Rather it satisfies the instant gratification of the Governing Body to keep individual Jehovah’s Witnesses in a never-ending loop of “theocratic submission” to their religious beliefs.

“Better to Be Patient Than to Be Haughty in Spirit”

This is a 5-part symposium in which the Governing Body admonishes the listening audience on the lessons they can use in being patient rather than haughty, from the five (5) bible characters listed below:

  • Abel
  • Jacob
  • Moses
  • Samuel
  • Jonathan

Better to Be Patient – Abel

Convention attendees are told:

“we must be determined to love Jehovah and Jesus more than we love anyone else….

"if we have a difficult family situation, a member of our family is disfellowshipped. Our affection for them should not be greater than our affection for Jehovah and Jesus. To that end, when reading the Bible and attending our meetings, our goal should be to make our relationship with Jehovah and Jesus stronger and stronger….

"By showing patience and supporting the decision that was made to disfellowship our dear loved one, our loved one may come back. They may turn around. May we prove our love for Jehovah by being patient and respecting his arrangement for discipline, even though it's a difficult situation.” 

These remarks are well-manuscripted to blur the distinction between disfellowshipping and any subsequent actions of the family of a disfellowshipped individual. The Governing Body deliberately does not explain what “By showing patience and supporting the decision…being patient and respecting his arrangement for discipline” means.

Whilst the above statements may give a ‘beacon of hope’ to those whose families are broken up after a family member is disfellowshipped, it’s also a false comfort to those whose disfellowshipped family member has made it clear that they are never returning back to the Jehovah’s Witness community. 

A Definition of Shunning

In the context of Jehovah's Witnesses, shunning refers to the practice of deliberately avoiding and cutting off social and religious interaction with an individual who has been disfellowshipped or disassociated. Disfellowshipping is a disciplinary action taken by the Jehovah's Witnesses organization when a member is found to have committed a serious sin or has violated significant principles of the faith. Disassociation occurs when a member voluntarily chooses to no longer be associated with the organization.

Shunning is a form of social and emotional isolation imposed by the Jehovah's Witnesses community on individuals who are no longer considered in good standing including disfellowshipped or disassociated individuals. Members are instructed to avoid any contact with the disfellowshipped or disassociated individual, including not engaging in conversation, socializing, or even acknowledging their presence. This practice is intended to encourage the individual to repent, seek reinstatement, and return to the fold. 

Shunning involves acts of ostracism; social abandonment, isolation; rejection and bad treatment by believers and family members who are Jehovah's Witnesses.

The policy of shunning is considered a form of discipline and is rooted in the belief that it helps maintain the moral and spiritual purity of the congregation. However, critics argue that it can have severe emotional and psychological effects on individuals who experience shunning, as it may lead to feelings of rejection, isolation, and loss of social support within the community.

Shunning is an unscriptural religious practice invented by the Governing Body of Jehovah's Witnesses intended to prevent individual Jehovah's Witness from voluntarily leaving their religion.

In a paper which “proposes that the Act [ Serious Crime Act 2015, United Kingdom] should be amended to include instances such as shunning by the Jehovah’s Witness community”, shunning is described as both a Controlling behavior and Coercive behavior that results in “the level of harm caused to the individual in terms of physical and emotional well-being.”- page 42 and 44, Grendele WA, Flax M, Bapir-Tardy S. Shunning from the Jehovah’s Witness Community: Is It Legal? Journal of Law and Religion, August 2023. ISSN 0748-0814 (In Press), University of West London.

The above paper describes “Jehovah’s Witness community is a gated community and, in being a secluded community, the ‘family’ metaphor acquires a powerful connotation. The Jehovah’s Witnesses consider themselves as a unified spiritual family…Fostering friendships and relationships outside the group and engaging in non-necessary activities with non-members is frowned upon and behaving differently can lay the basis for disciplinary actions. Often, the connections with family members who are not part of the community are also sacrificed. Those who are not part of the community, irrespective of the biological ties, are considered as being bad influences due to their lifestyle, belief system or way of thinking. Therefore, the individual’s social life is strictly confined to the community.” – page 35

Thus shunning is also a control tool used by Jehovah's Witnesses to prevent their members from openly questioning their beliefs; from leaving the religion; and ultimately prevented from exercising their own individual freedoms of religion, association, speech and expression.

As a consequence, many Jehovah's Witnesses lead a double life as PIMOs (PIMO, physically in mentally out), as a “strategy that some adopt to preserve their affective ties while trying to live according to their values and beliefs.” – page 24, Grendele WA, Flax M, Bapir-Tardy S. Shunning from the Jehovah’s Witness Community: Is It Legal? Journal of Law and Religion, August 2023. ISSN 0748-0814 (In Press), University of West London.

The word shunning is not found in the bible; nor did the founder of Christianity use any Greek or Hebrew word for shun, shunning and any of its equalivant, neither did he promote this harmful practice. 

Acts of Shunning – Examples

The following are a few examples of acts of shunning. This list is by no means exhaustive:

  • Ghosting
  • Absolutely no communication
  • Silent treatment
  • Blocking on social media platforms
  • Not being invited to family events including reunions, weddings and funerals
  • Being ignored at family events including reunions, weddings and funerals
  • Not greeting the disfellowshipped person
  • Withdrawing financial and emotional support
The Deleted 2023 Convention Videos

The Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses has been advocating and promoting shunning for decades. In recent times, they have used video presentations at their conventions to do. The first time was at the 2016 Convention. 

Below are the videos from both the 2016 and 2023 Conventions.

2023 Convention Video Presentation

Shunning Tutorial #1 – Deleted Video

Not shown at any 2023 Convention

2023 Convention Video Presentation

Shunning Tutorial #2 – Deleted Video

Not shown at any 2023 Convention

2016 Convention Video Presentation

Shunning Tutorial

The Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses originally intended to use their freedom of religion to brazenly promote shunning at each 2023 Convention, by presenting the two (2) deleted videos as part of the above lecture. These two (2) video presentations were initially shown at May 2023 sample online convention, but was subsequently deleted from the sample convention. Additionally prior to their removal in May 2023, video presentations for the 2023 Convention were made avaliable for download by responsible convention elders via a secure login on jwstream.

Subsequently in June 2023, elders responsible for managing their 2023 Convention were instructed not to show the deleted video presentations and were provided with replacement videos. Thus most 2023 Conventions attendees have never seen the deleted video presentations.

The Governing Body never provided a reason for the removal of the two (2) video presentations. However, the videos were deleted at a time when Jehovah’s Witnesses in Norway were (and still are) under intense scrutiny for their shunning practices and its impact on the freedoms and human rights of individual Jehovah’s Witnesses. In the preceding month of April 2023, the Oslo District Court revoked the December 2022 temporary injunction brought by Jehovah’s Witnesses against the State Administrator regarding annuals government grants to religions. Three months later well into the 2023 Convention season in July 2023, the Borgarting Court of Appeal rejected the appeal by Jehovah’s Witnesses and upheld the previous ruling of the Oslo District Court. Please see Norway: Religious Abuse on Trial for further information.

“An Approximation of the Truth”

In their website article, Do Jehovah’s Witnesses Shun Those Who Used to Belong to Their Religion? Jehovah’s Witnesses claim that:

“If, however, a baptized Witness makes a practice of breaking the Bible’s moral code and does not repent, he or she will be shunned or disfellowshipped. The Bible clearly states: “Remove the wicked man from among yourselves.”—1 Corinthians 5:13……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.”

However this is “an approximation of the truth” intended to blur the reader’s understanding of disfellowshipping (revoking membership status; expulsion from the religion) and subsequent actions. Please see How Jehovah's Witnesses Lie for further details.

All 3 convention video presentations are 101 tutorials on effective shunning of a family member who previously had a "strong dependence on the Jehovah's Witnesses community".

In all 3 convention video presentations, not answering a phone call of the disfellowshipped person was deemed as being loyal to Jehovah and “supporting the decision that was made to disfellowship our dear loved one”. All family ties and “natural affection” with the disfellowshipped person are gone!! In the 2023 video presentations, Jehovah’s Witnesses have placed additional targets on their backs, bringing into question their interpretation of “honoring one’s parents”.

The above video presentations clearly demonstrate the blatant disregard of the leadership of Jehovah’s Witnesses for the rights and freedoms of individuals whilst ensuring that their rights and freedoms as a religion is given priority. The Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses has shown over the decades that they do not care about the rights and freedoms of individual Jehovah’s Witness.

Better to Be Patient – Jonathan

The Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses uses the example of Jonathan in supporting his younger friend soon-to-be-king, David, and relegating his personal interests as the firstborn son of Israel’s 1st king, Saul, to second place..

Convention attendees are counseled:

“Be obedient, be submissive to those who are taking the lead among you, to the elders in the congregation. In other words, cooperate with the elders…

Jesus organized congregations because he wants to take care of you. And one way he wants to take care of you is by making sure that there are well-qualified elders appointed in the congregation to support you...

So when we see the direction and the scriptural counsel of the elders as if coming from Jehovah…we see things this way, Jehovah's way and that we're ready to support that. It tells him that's how we support him in the congregation.”

In this Convention part, individual Jehovah’s Witnesses are told to be patient, “things take time”, “don't take things back into our own hands”, “Jehovah's arrangements a chance”, even when they experience injustice from fellow believers:

“Say for example, you become aware or you become the victim of an injustice in the congregation. The elders have been informed. Now what? Now patience. These things take time to be resolved properly as per Jehovah's arrangement. And we don't take things back into our own hands because it takes time. We want to give Jehovah's arrangements a chance, right? And once it's done properly, it's always for everybody's good, for the greatest good of all.”

Convention attendees are thus admonished to put the “direction and the scriptural counsel of the elders”, their religious beliefs and unscriptural policies of the Governing Body ahead of legitimate personal interests. Jehovah’s Witnesses are required to do this even when they experience injustice from fellow believers.

In some situations where an individual experience injustice from fellow believers such as child molestation, following the above foolish religious advice, have resulted in the Jehovah’s Witness pedophile continuing to molest other children in the Jehovah’s Witness faith and being a threat to other children in the wider community. There has not been one example where, after consulting their Legal Department, elders report such criminal offences. There has been no evidence thus far that the “legal advice” included “please make a police report”.

Editor's Comments

Social Isolation - A Key Factor for Effective Shunning

Shunning has been actively promoted by the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witness as content, through various media such as literature, books, video presentations, congregation public talks, congregation local needs, service talks by circuit overseers, Governing Body members and other high-ranking elders; as well as at religious gatherings such a congregation meetings, conventions and assemblies. 

Shunning was given more importance by the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses following the defection of Raymond Franz (a former Governing Body member) and his close friends in the late 1970s into the early 1980s.

See the following for further details:

During the indoctrination process of a recruit better known as a Bible Student or an interested person, Jehovah’s Witnesses use the following bible passages to isolate the recruit:

  • 1 Corinthians 15:33
  • Proverbs 13:20
  • 2 Timothy 2:20-22
  • 1 Corinthians 5:6; 2 
  • 2 Thessalonians 3:6, 7, 14.

The recruit is made to think/believe that individuals who do not subscribe to the religious beliefs of are Jehovah’s Witnesses “bad associations” and “stupid people”. He is also told that “close friends outside the congregation can cause us to draw away from Jehovah.” He is further made to think/believe that he must replace his existing friends with “Friends who love and worship Jehovah”. The following extracts from various recruitment manuals used by the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses highlights this.

You Can Live Forever in Paradise on Earth - 1981 - *** chap. 25 p. 212 pars. 12-14 For Satan’s World, or God’s New System? ***

13 Well, you live in among the people who make up today’s organized human society. These people include fornicators, greedy persons and others who do wicked things. You may work with them, go to school with them, eat with them, and share in other such activities with them. (1 Corinthians 5:9, 10) You are even to love them, as God does. (John 3:16) But a true Christian does not love the wicked things the people do. He does not adopt their attitudes, actions or goals in life. He takes no part in their corrupt religion and politics. And while he must often work in the commercial world to make a living, he does not engage in dishonest business practices; nor is the gaining of material things his main goal in life. Since he is for God’s new system, he avoids the bad association of those living for Satan’s world. (1 Corinthians 15:33; Psalm 1:1; 26:3-6, 9, 10) As a result, he is in Satan’s world but still is no part of it.

14 What about you? Do you want to be part of Satan’s world? Or are you for God’s new system? If you are for God’s new system, you will be separate from the world, including its false religion. (Bold mines)

Knowledge That Leads to Everlasting Life - 1995 - *** chap. 17 p. 169 par. 20 Find Security Among God’s People ***

How grateful we can be that Jehovah makes loving spiritual provisions through his Word and organization! Draw close to God’s people. Do not hold back in fear of what friends or relatives may think of you for taking in the knowledge of God. Some may disapprove because you are associating with Jehovah’s Witnesses and attending meetings at the Kingdom Hall.

How to Remain in God’s Love - 2017 *** lvs chap. 3 p. 33 par. 7 Choose Friends Who Love God ***

7 Jehovah’s friends are faithful, loyal, and obedient, and they love his Son. Do we choose the same kind of friends that Jehovah does? If your friends imitate Jesus and are busy teaching others about God’s Kingdom, they can help you to be a better person and to remain loyal to Jehovah.

How to Remain in God’s Love - 2017 - lvs chap. 3 p. 37 pars. 13-14 Choose Friends Who Love God

the apostle Paul warned Christians back then: “Do not be misled. Bad associations spoil useful habits.” (1 Corinthians 15:12, 33) Paul also warned Timothy to be careful about whom he chose to be his close friends. We should do the same today.—Read 2 Timothy 2:20-22.

14 We must protect our relationship with Jehovah. It is the most precious thing we have. So we avoid being close friends with anyone who could weaken our faith and damage that relationship. Just as we cannot soak a sponge in vinegar and expect it to become filled with water, we cannot have friends who do wrong things and expect that it will be easy for us to do right things. We need to choose our close friends carefully.—1 Corinthians 5:6; 2 Thessalonians 3:6, 7, 14.

Enjoy Life Forever!—An Interactive Bible Course - 2023 - *** lesson 48 point 1 ***

How will the friends you choose affect you?

We tend to become like the people we spend time with. This can be good or bad—and that is true whether we spend time with them in person or on social media. As the Bible says, “the one walking with the wise will become wise, but the one who has dealings with the stupid [those who do not love Jehovah] will fare badly.” (Proverbs 13:20) Friends who love and worship Jehovah can help you to stay close to him and to make good decisions. But close friends outside the congregation can cause us to draw away from Jehovah. No wonder the Bible encourages us to choose our friends wisely! When our friends are people who love God, we benefit both ourselves and them. We are able to “keep encouraging one another and building one another up.”—1 Thessalonians 5:11.

*** lesson 48 point 3 ***

Beware of bad association - People who do not love God and his standards are bad association

Isolation from Outside Influences

Once an individual show interest in becoming Jehovah's Witnesses, they are pressured to distance themselves from friends and family who are not Jehovah’s Witnesses and who have no intentions of joining the religion; and from all activities deemed incompatible with the practices and teachings of Jehovah's Witnesses. This isolation is created by skillful, manipulation of the above mentioned bible verses to pressure the individual. When the individual complies, the resulting isolation creates a strong sense of dependence on the Jehovah's Witnesses community for social support and validation.

This isolation and strong dependence on the Jehovah's Witnesses community will be exploitated and will create problems respectively later on, should the recruit (now a full fledged Jehovah's Witness) decide to voluntarily leave or is expelled from the religious community.

The practice of isolating a recruit, also known as a ‘Bible Student’ is clearly demonstrated in the 2020 convention video presentation “Help Your Bible Students to Avoid Bad Associations”. This video presentation is part of a series of recruitment tutorials presented at the 2020 Convention of Jehovah’s Witnesses.

2020 Convention Video Presentation

Recruitment Tutorial –

“Help Your Bible Students to Avoid Bad Associations”


The video presentation commences shortly after Neeta (the recruit) attended her first meeting of Jehovah’s Witnesses (scene omitted), during which she was love-bombed by members of Jade’s congregation. Now that Jade got Neeta addicted to the “Christian love” of Jehovah’s Witnesses, Jade begins the process of isolating Neeta from her current friends by claiming that “good association are wholesome gatherings with our brothers and sisters from the congregation and we eat and talk and some like to play musical instruments and they'll do renditions of original songs.”

The video presentation also portrays Neeta’s current friends, consuming shots of alcohol and having a good time at the club, as “bad associations”.

In the end, Neeta’s current friends who drink alcohol and go to the club are replaced entirely by “brothers and sisters from the congregation” of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Neeta now becomes a victim of potential shunning as her Jehovah’s Witness social support network is the only community she has. This new network and community now becomes the only thing that can be pulled from under Neeta's feet by Jehovah's Witnesses at a future time, should Neeta commit a religious offence or wants to leave the Jehovah's Witness community.

The subsequent scene to the video presentation above shows Neeta dressed without the jeans pants about to attend an interview to become a publisher, fully convinced that becoming one of Jehovah’s Witnesses “is the right thing to do”.

The isolation process described in the above videos and publications produced by the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses, makes shunning a very effective disciplinary tool.

As a result of this isolation from non-believers, Jehovah’s Witnness are often decribed as a “secluded community” or a “gated community” - Grendele WA, Flax M, Bapir-Tardy S. Shunning from the Jehovah’s Witness Community: Is It Legal? Journal of Law and Religion, August 2023. ISSN 0748-0814 (In Press), University of West London.

It must also be emphasized that isolation of members is an indication that the group or religion is a cult. See Behavior Control of the BITE Model by Dr. Steven Hassan for further details.

Shunning and Freedom of Religion

The September 2021 paperFreedom of religion or belief and the Sustainable Development Goalsby Marie Juul Petersen for the Danish Institute for Human Rights, states the following on freedom of religion:

“The right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion – commonly known as the right to freedom of religion or belief (FoRB) – is a human right. It endows all individuals with the right to have, adopt, change or leave a religion or belief; to manifest and practice this religion or belief, alone or in community with others; and to be free from coercion and discrimination on the grounds of their religion or belief. It also protects the right not to have or practice a religion or belief. And it protects the right of parents to raise their children in conformity with their own beliefs. 

The right to have, adopt, change or leave a religion or belief can never be limited or restricted. The right to manifest and practice a religion or belief, however, can be limited in certain circumstances, most importantly when religious or belief manifestations or practices violate the rights and freedoms of others. Limitations must always be prescribed by law, necessary, and proportionate.”

Jehovah’s Witnesses, both as a religious entity and as individuals, are bestowed with the assurance of practicing their religious convictions in numerous countries. Their freedom of religion and belief (FoRB) is explicitly safeguarded by international instruments such as the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the European Convention on Human Rights, and the constitutions of many nations.

However, the practice of mandated shunning within the Jehovah’s Witness community, as previously discussed above, severely restricts individual rights and freedoms. While touted as a religious practice, shunning undermines the FoRB of individual Jehovah’s Witnesses who may wish to disassociate from the community. The compelled shunning creates a restriction, hindering those who desire to leave the Jehovah’s Witness community from doing so.

This circumstance results in a deprivation of the freedom and right of individual Jehovah’s Witnesses to "have, adopt, change or leave a religion or belief." The imposition of mandated shunning poses a challenge to the principle of religious freedom, creating a conflict between the communal religious practices and the individual's right to exercise autonomy over their religious affiliations.

"Taught to Shun as a Child"

My name is Lester Somrah. I reside in Trinidad and Tobago. I grew up in the Jehovah’s Witness community. I spent my early childhood attending the St. Joseph Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses at the Kingdom Hall on Wellington Street, St. Joseph.

My testimony below is set in my early childhood during the 1980s.

From ever I knew myself, I would see this young brother whose pseudonym is Harrison Chang Fong, behave in a strange manner at each congregation meeting. At the conclusion of each congregation meeting just before the last song, he would walk towards the back of the auditorium with the songbook in his hand; remain there standing for the entire song; and then exit into the carpark before the Amen of the concluding prayer. Sometimes when I would look at him standing, my mother would tell me “Don’t look at him. He’s disfellowshipped. We don’t talk to disfellowshipped people.” Of course her admonishment occurred several times.

Harrison is of Chinese descent. Harrison’s father most likely was not a Jehovah’s Witness and his mother was a baptized Jehovah’s Witness who owned a bakery. Harrison attended a very prestigious all-boys Catholic secondary school in St. James during the later 1970s and early 1980s. I have estimated that Harrison could have been disfellowshipped between the ages of 17 to 19 years old.

From his impeccable dress and grooming at each congregation meeting, it is now clear to me that Harrison was successful at his 7-year secondary school education, probably had a decent job and thus was not scrunting nor struggling to make ends meet. Whilst he was disfellowshipped, Harrison lived at home with his parents and may have benefited from their support.

Back in the 1980s, the number of disfellowshipped people in Trinidad and Tobago was most likely small. This made them quite popular amongst the local Jehovah’s Witnesses.

The gossip mill of the local Jehovah’s Witness community had it that Harrison was expelled from his religious community for “running down too much ah woman”, “liking too much ah woman” and subsequently succumbing to “the desires of the fallen flesh”.

I clearly remember the announcement by one of the congregation elders at the Tuesday meeting - “Harrison Chang Fong has been re-instated as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses”.

Lester Somrah

Editor, avoidjw.org

The BITE Model at the 2023 Convention - Saturday Afternoon Session

(See BITE Model of Authoritarian Control by Dr. Steven Hassan for a full description)

Behavior Control

“Dictate where, how, and with whom the member lives and associates or isolates"

"When, how and with whom the member has sex"

"Separation of Families"

“Dictate with whom the member marries" - In the first lecture “Why Beware of Instant Gratification?”, the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses dictates who should be a suitable marriage mate for individual Jehovah’s Witness. They use the bible passage at 2 Corinthians 6:14 (“Do not become unevenly yoked with unbelievers”) as an important Bible principle to remember when choosing a husband or a wife.

There are numerous examples in the literature of Jehovah’s Witnesses where they are constantly reminded by the Governing Body to choose a marriage mate who is in good standing in the Jehovah's Witness community. Even if an individual Jehovah’s Witness chooses to exercise his individual legal freedom to marry a non-believer, that person can be made to second-guess their decision in favor of giving priority to the interests of the religion.

Here are a few examples:

“a marriage between someone who worships Jehovah and someone who does not will likely result in many problems. So the Bible gives us the wise advice to marry “only in the Lord.”—1 Corinthians 7:39….At times, some Christians have felt that they would rather marry someone who does not worship Jehovah than be alone. But if we ignore Bible counsel, the result is often pain and unhappiness…This does not mean that just anyone who serves Jehovah would be a good husband or wife for you.” - “Keep Yourselves in God’s Love”, 2008, chap. 10 pp. 134-136 Marriage—A Gift From God

“Still, Jehovah has set out in his Word the direction to marry only in the Lord. Why? Because he knows what is good for his people. Not only does he want to safeguard his servants from the pain resulting from pursuing an unwise course but he also wants them to be happy….Of course, not all unbelieving mates turn out to be cruel and unreasonable. Yet, even if you did not suffer those consequences for marrying an unbeliever, how would your relationship with your loving heavenly Father be affected? How would you feel knowing that you had not listened to the counsel that he provided for your good? And most important of all, how would he feel about your decision?—Prov. 1:33. Brothers and sisters around the world can testify to the fact that marrying “only in the Lord” is the best policy.” – The Watchtower, March 15th 2015, pp. 30-31 Marry “Only in the Lord”—Still Realistic?

“The Bible counsels God’s servants who are seeking a marriage mate to marry “only in the Lord,” that is, to marry only a dedicated, baptized worshipper of Jehovah who lives according to Scriptural teachings. (1 Cor. 7:39) By marrying fellow believers, Christians gain companions who are dedicated to Jehovah and will help them maintain their integrity to him.” - The Watchtower, August 15th 2015, pp. 26-27 par. 12 Watch Your Associations in These Last Days

“Dictate with whom the member associates with; separates families and destroys the family unit" - During the recruitment and indoctrination process described above, Jehovah’s Witnesses dictate to the recruit who should be their friends and associates. Pressure is placed on the recruit to distance themselves from friends and family who are not Jehovah’s Witnesses and who have no intentions of joining the religion; and activities deemed incompatible with the practices and teachings of Jehovah's Witnesses. Pressure is placed on the recruit to have friends and associates from only within the Jehovah’s Witness community. This isolation creates problems later on should the recruit commit a religious offence or wants to leave the Jehovah's Witness community.

As a result of the isolation enforced by the religious beliefs of Jehovah’s Witnesses, this creates additional problems in the family unit where one believing member commits a religious offence or wants to leave the Jehovah's Witness community that often results in the breakdown and disintegration of the family unit. The Internet and YouTube are littered with too many experiences where the offending family member is:

  • thrown out the house; 
  • shunned by not only believers who they thought were their “friends”, but also shunned by their own family and relatives; 
  • divorce proceedings; 
  • child custody battles; 
  • and subject to other acts of shunning too many to name in this convention review.
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Lester Somrah

Lester Somrah writes about the beliefs and practices of Jehovah’s Witnesses on his social media platforms and was baptized as a member in 1998.

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