August 2024 The Watchtower Jehovah's Witnesses to relax shunning rules
Cover image of the August 2024 Study Edition of The Watchtower

Jehovah’s Witnesses to Relax Shunning Rules

After almost 40 years of an extreme form of shunning, Jehovah’s Witnesses are to relax their rules on how they treat former members. The changes are a long time coming, especially as many current and former members have shown time and time again that the rules are based on grossly misunderstood Bible verses. Despite the welcome changes, no apology is forthcoming from the leaders for their wayward stance of Biblical understanding.

First published  July 1, 2024. Revised July 2, 2024.

In an upcoming release of The Watchtower, seen by AvoidJW, the leadership of Jehovah’s Witnesses have written a series of five articles discussing their stance on shunning. The articles also explain their reasons for relaxing their rules. 

The first article, entitled, What Jehovah Has Done to Rescue Sinful Humans, is a 15-paragraph discussion of how God offers hope to mankind by means of Jesus Christ. This article is the basic tenets of Christianity and is used to set the stage for the subsequent articles.

A Question from Readers article identifies a relaxation of marking disorderly members. As long as most Jehovah’s Witnesses can remember, elders have given warning talks to congregations to shun marked persons. With a new understanding of Paul’s words at 2 Thessalonians 3:14 it’s now a personal decision for members to shun someone without having to be told to do so. In a footnote, a few examples are provided: one who refuses to work, courting an unbeliever, or spreading divisive talk or hurtful gossip. 

The second article is entitled, Jehovah Wants All to Repent. Like all Christian churches, it accepts that all persons are sinful, and that such individuals must repent for God to forgive them. It gives examples of Israel having to repent and being warned by various prophets. The article claims that Jehovah leads sinners to repentance but gives an example of where He was unable to do so. The article then refers to Jesus as a teacher of forgiveness and repentance.  It concludes by suggestingwithout evidence or scripturethat 1st Century Christians might have viewed Saul of Tarsus as being “a lost cause”.

How the Congregation Reflects Jehovah’s View of Sinners is the middle article that begins by saying that “Jehovah created humans with free will”. It continues, “However, Jehovah does not force anyone to serve him” but that “if a baptized [Jehovah’s Witnesses] breaks [their rules], he must be removed from the congregation”.  The article gives a single example of how serious wrongdoing was handled in the first century. Therein, it shows that their long-held understanding of this incident has been incorrect. Furthermore, there is no additional scriptures used for their change in stance, and no apology has been given for their long-term extreme and distorted view of this example. 

Instead, they quote the very same verses critics have used to show that their approach to shunning was wrong and non-Biblical. These verses are found at 2 Corinthians 2:5-8 and are referred to in paragraph 7. Bear in mind that Jehovah’s Witnesses view critics of their practices as “apostates”. Their change in understanding now means that disfellowshipped members no longer have to wait more than a year to be reinstated; “only months” have to pass.  

It’s an ungodly error that millions of members and former members – who have been victims of Jehovah’s Witnesses’ extreme form of shunning – will never receive an apology. While members and former members will have to continue asking for repentance, the organization behind Jehovah’s Witnesses does not seem to think it has to conform to the same rules. It appears the example of ancient Israel discussed in the second article has no application for the leaders of Jehovah’s Witnesses. How convenient!

A fourth article, Responding to Sin With Love and Mercy directs readers to report their sins—and the sins of others that they become aware of—to congregation elders. Until now, in cases of serious wrongdoing as determined by Jehovah’s Witnesses, elders would set up a judicial committee meeting and would question the penitent about very invasive matters. Many members and former members will never forget such questions, including where their hands have been, how far a man’s penis was inside a woman, whether the woman orgasmed, to name but a few. 

AvoidJW has previously sent an open letter to Robert Luccioni of the Governing Body Publishing Committee discussing these invasive questions. We’re sure the subject matter helped them see how perverse their direction to congregation elders had become. It’s no wonder then that the meeting will no longer be referred to as a judicial committee meeting. Instead, “judicial” will be removed from the description. Paragraph 10 now directs elders not to be “unnecessarily intrusive”. 

How many decades did it take for The Watchtower to give this sort of basic direction? How many people have been the victim of such perverse questions? How many still deal with the trauma of such questioning, even though the experience may have been years ago? The organization and its hierarchy of leaders have a lot to answer for, yet still no apology for such grossly sinful behaviour. 

A welcome change is the slower approach to expulsion. Previously, elders would be quick to decide on expulsion after a single meeting. Now elders are directed to have more than one meeting to ensure the decision they reach is the correct one. But again, no apology for the hundreds of thousands of mistakes that have been made prior to this change. How many people were disfellowshipped wrongly? We’ll never know, and the organization will never apologise. 

As a last note on this fourth article, those under 18 years of age will no longer face a judicial committee meeting alone. Instead, children will face a committee of two elders with their parents or guardians.  This change is an important one and it’s directly related to events in Courts around the world. 

Help for Those Who Are Removed From the Congregation is the final article and deals with expulsion.  Although the treatment will remain the same if a member is expelled, they will no longer be referred to as “disfellowshipped”. Instead, members will be referred to “as being removed from the congregation”.  The article goes to extremes to avoid referring to congregation members as “members”. Instead, the organization refers to “members” as “individuals”, as if there is a difference. There isn’t. The whole purpose of wiping their articles of the word “member” is to avoid the legal connotations associated with membership. As always, the organization prioritizes protecting its interests over the interests of the individual members.  

Another welcome change is that the organization has again relaxed its shunning rules. Instead of completely cutting off those who have committed serious sins, the elders are directed to meet with the penitent again after a few months (as long as the reason for expulsion isn’t apostasy). For those who were expelled years ago, the organization now permits elders “to locate and visit these individuals”. Sinners who manifest repentance can be reinstated without delay. Congregations are also given permission to welcome expelled members “to the meeting with a simple greeting”. 

No scripture is provided for this sudden change. Instead, the very verses used in 1 Corinthians 5 to completely shun former members are now used to direct Jehovah’s Witnesses to “use their Bible-trained conscience in deciding whether to invite a person who was removed the congregation—perhaps a relative or someone they were close to previously—to attend a congregation meeting.” Although the organization claims a “Bible-trained” conscience is used to determine how to treat someone, members are explicitly told not to “have an extended conversation or socialize with the individual.” It’s not much of a conscience matter when the direction is explicit!

Finally, the relaxation in the shunning rules does not apply to those the organization considers apostates. In a question box entitled, Were John and Paul Discussing the Same Kind of Sin?, the organization has finally realized that 2 John 10, 11 and 1 Corinthians 5:11 are talking about two different kinds of sins. Again, critics have been saying this for decades. Yet, the organization, which dubiously claims to be directed by Jehovah God, used both verses to justify their extreme form of shunning. Only now do they admit that the verses are referring to two very different situations, and two very different types of sin. But alas, the self-serving organization has phrased their answer in such a way that critics of their Biblical understanding will continue to fall into the group referred to by John: apostates.

Whether we are referred to as critics or apostates, we have nothing to worry about. It’s not us lying to the courts, deceiving congregations, or manipulating members.  It’s not us who are unable to apologize and admit we made mistakes. It’s not us that have ruined countless lives or pushed countless members to commit suicide due to the extreme form of shunning. It’s not us that have to answer to God for the unrepentant sins committed by those who run the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

We, on the other hand, are only too happy to see that the changes we’ve been requesting for almost a decade have started to take form. 

Download the August 2024 Study Edition of The Watchtower