As Jehovah’s Witnesses kick off their 2023 Regional Convention season, something very odd took place.
Two videos intended for the Witnesses’ online version of the convention have been deleted from the streaming versions of the assembly program, with no explanation. But not before they were captured by avoidjw.org.
The videos portray a disfellowshipped mother attempting to reach her single daughter by phone, but is rejected by her daughter, who struggles with the decision to shun her own mother.
The first video takes place at Elsa’s Kitchen table. Her phone rings, and we hear her thoughts:
First of two deleted videos suggesting how Jehovah’s Witnesses should shun family members.
“Mom’s disfellowshipping still feels so raw.” says Elsa, as she declines a phone call from her mother.
The young woman listens to her mother’s 8-second voicemail:
“Elsa, please pick up. I need you so much. I just need to hear your voice.”
Elsa narrates the voice in her head:
“It’s such a struggle…I miss her.” She leans up against her kitchen countertop and begins to reminisce about the close relationship she once had with her mother, before the disfellowshipping.
Elsa scrolls through her phone and views photo memories of her and her mom. A corny photo at a Watchtower Bethel facility, posing with cardboard cutouts of Caleb and Sophia. A photo taken at home during a Memorial celebration in front of a plate of unleavened bread, and a glass of wine. A selfie taken at a picnic lunch. A picture with her mom in front of an easel as they painted flowers together.
“She was my closest friend,” says Elsa. “What’s the harm in just calling once in a while? To chat. Maybe I can even help her to come back to Jehovah.”
The first video ends with Else staring pensively at her phone. She knows very well that she could be disfellowshipped for “brazen” association with her disfellowshipped mother.
The second video takes place inside a mock Kingdom Hall, where we break into the speaker mid-sentence:
“Abel was essentially a spiritual orphan. But regardless of what his parents chose, he listened to Jehovah, and patiently waited on him to fulfill his promises.”
Second of two deleted videos suggesting how Jehovah’s Witnesses should shun family members.
The camera closes in on Elsa’s face and her thoughts.
“I never thought of it that way. What has Jehovah promised me if I patiently wait?”
Elsa then slowly turns her gaze to the left as her thoughts continue:
“Spiritual Brothers…” she muses as the camera pans to two creepy-looking single males seated on the left side of the auditorium.
“Sisters…” she continues, as she looks to her left at three JW women sitting close to each other.
“And mothers…” she thinks, as she is greeted by the smile of an Asian Jehovah’s Witness woman who will assume the place of her biological mother.
In the next scene, Elsa is once again phoned by her nameless biological mother, and again, she rejects her mom’s call. Elsa consults her silver Bible and tablet computer to reinforce the policy to cut her mother completely from her life.
“If I focus on what I do have, and wait patiently, someday, what I don’t have, may even come back to Jehovah.”
The conclusion of the second video leaves the viewer with the distinct impression that Elsa’s mother is a nameless disfellowshipped quantity, a dead lump of flesh described by the writers as “what” instead of “who.”
The streaming version of the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ assembly for 2023 is not intended to be a replacement for the in-person assemblies, but an alternative for JW members who may be unable to attend their local convention for various reasons.
The video dramas and reenactments are interspersed between and within the speeches given by higher-ranking members of the Church. The shunning videos were originally slated to be embedded into the Saturday Afternoon session during the speech titled: “Better to Be Patient Than to be Haughty in Spirit: Imitate Abel, Not Adam.” The focus of this particular talk is on the benefits of enforcing the shunning of close family members who are disfellowshipped, with a special emphasis on parent-child relationships. The speaker chosen for the streaming speech was Corey Wadlington, announced as a member of the Wallkill New York Headquarters facility.
According to court documents sourced by avoidjw, Wadlington is a member of the potent and influential Service Department of Jehovah’s Witnesses, and is identified as a Service Secretary, the right-hand man for the Deskman position. Deskmen and Service Secretaries are responsible for the management of the internal affairs and disciplinary processes used by the Jehovah’s Witnesses, particularly in situations involving child sexual abuse, disfellowshipping, and other cases considered too complex for local congregation elders to handle on their own. The men in these positions correspond and speak with congregations throughout the Branch territory using a confidential system of 3-digit codes. These codes allow the Service Department members to conceal their identities when speaking with congregation elders.
The code currently in use by Wadlington as of February 2021 is “SST” and has been associated with numerous child sexual abuse cases and corresponding documents, according to internal Church documents obtained by avoidjw.org and jwchildabuse.org.
It seems no real surprise that Mr. Wadlington was selected to represent and enforce the disfellowshipping and shunning arrangement by giving a speech highlighting the importance of loyalty to this destructive and controversial church policy.
Questions have been raised regarding the timing of the removal of these two videos, especially in the wake of the recent release of the documentary Rebekah Vardy, Jehovah’s Witnesses and Me, a UK-based program that delved into the harrowing effects of disfellowshipping, shunning, and the prevalence of child abuse among the Witnesses.
Vardy, a known celebrity in England, revealed that she was left unprotected as a minor after experiencing abuse, then shunning – despite the fact that she was never a baptized member.
Even more significant may be the fact that Jehovah’s Witnesses have lost their registration as a religious organization in Norway in part as a result of the social isolation policy practiced by the Witnesses when disfellowshipping minor baptized members. The Norwegian government is likewise concerned that the rights of individual members of the JWs are violated by denying baptized members the opportunity to leave the Church on their own terms without loss of relationships and communications with other members, including close family.
While the reasons for the removal of these new videos is still a matter of speculation, it seems evident that it was done hastily, with the vast majority of Jehovah’s Witnesses unaware of what has taken place. The videos provide very powerful visual evidence of the practice of shunning, and the expectations placed upon any Witness with a disfellowshipped relative.
All the same, the speech given by Wadlington was no less potent. In his concluding remarks, the Service Department official says:
“If a member of our family is disfellowshipped, our affection for them should not be greater than our affection for Jehovah…”