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Disfellowshipping and Shunning

For every 100 Jehovah's Witnesses more than 1 is disfellowshipped each year; over 70,000.(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.(3)
  • 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 explains:

watchtower 2011 july 15 p23
Watchtower 2011 Jul 15 p.23

"Thus "disfellowshiping" is what Jehovah's Witnesses appropriately call the expelling and subsequent shunning of such an unrepentant wrongdoer." Watchtower 1981 Sep 15 p.22
"… 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 p.25

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 the extent to which the Watchtower practices this unchristian form of manipulation. Though there is Scriptural precedence to limit association with brothers practicing wrongdoing, the Watchtower application of disfellowshipping seriously deviates from Bible guidelines in a number of ways;

The word "disfellowship" does not appear in the Bible

  • 2 John 10 says not to greet the Antichrist. The Watchtower uses this single scripture to support not saying hello to a disfellowshipped person.

  • At Scriptures such as 1 Corinthians 5, Paul outlined limiting association with Christians that practice wrongdoing, not strict shunning.

  • The Watchtower disfellowships for practices never discussed in the Bible such as smoking, gambling and having a blood transfusion.

  • Disfellowshipping is extended to prevent immediate family members associating with their disfellowshipped relatives.

  • 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 for.

This extensive article is arranged under the following headings:


Watchtower Rules on Treating those Disfellowshipped

The Watchtower divides punishment of wrongdoers into two categories, those deserving of marking(4) and those deserving of disfellowshipping (or "disassociation"(5)). Marking is applied to mild wrongdoing, (not yet gross sin for which they might be disfellowshipped w82 2/1 p.31), and the person is not named. On the other hand, a disfellowshipped person is publicly named and must be avoided by all Witnesses in almost all circumstances. It is important to note that the Bible never uses the term disfellowship and makes no such distinction from marking.

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, as discussed later in this article, 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. Hence, a disfellowshipped Witness must not be greeted regardless of whether their "sin" was murder, changing beliefs or simply smoking cigarettes.

Total avoidance of the member is extended beyond members of the congregation and to ones immediate family. Few people could consider it acceptable that a religion demand parents shun their own child, and it is incomprehensible that the following quote was written in the twenty first century.

"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 the religion is a thinly veiled attempt at increasing membership numbers and hardly seems of spiritual value.

The same experience appears again in the Watchtower 2013 Jun 15 p.28. Here the person states, "Had my family associated with me even a little, say to check up on me, that small dose of association would have satisfied me and likely not allowed my desire for association to be a motivating factor to return to God." This shows how absolute the shunning of family is expected to be.

The Watchtower 2013 Jan 1 p.16 even denies family communication by email, stating; "Do not look for excuses to associate with a disfellowshipped family member, for example, through e-mail." Interestingly, whilst the translation into most languages is the same, the Spanish edition extends this to "email, phone or text messaging."

Watchtower 2013 Jan 1 page 16 english      Watchtower 2013 Jan 1 page 16 Spanish

The following quotes span a number of decades regarding the treatment of disfellowshipped members and how they are to be viewed. Due to these articles, there are former Jehovah's Witnesses that have been shunned by Witness family members for decades.

The current standard on how to treat the disfellowshipped was set in the Watchtower 1981 Sep 15. The rules in this article have been quoted in the Kingdom Ministry 2002 Aug and the 2008 book Keep Yourself in God's Love. The discussion on disfellowshipping in Keep Yourself in God's Love shows that there has been no softening in recent times.

God's Love Disfellowship page 207      God's Love Disfellowship page 208

Further quotes outlining how the Watchtower Society expects Jehovah's Witnesses to treat disfellowshipped members are as follows.

"Really, what your beloved family member needs to see is your resolute stance to put Jehovah above everything else - including the family bond. … Do not look for excuses to associate with a disfellowshipped family member, for example, through e-mail." Watchtower 2013 Jan 15 p.16
"And all members of the congregation need to be determined to avoid the company of disfellowshipped individuals." Watchtower 2011 Nov 15 p.5
"Suppose, for example, that the only son of an exemplary Christian couple leaves the truth. Preferring "the temporary enjoyment of sin" to a personal relationship with Jehovah and with his godly parents, the young man is disfellowshipped. … the Bible says "to quit mixing in company with anyone called a brother that is a fornicator. … They also realise that the word "anyone" in this verse includes family members not living under their roof. … Our hearts go out to those parents. After all, their son had a choice, and he chose to pursue his unchristian lifestyle rather than to continue to enjoy close association with his parents and other fellow believers. The parents, on the other hand, had no say in the matter. … But what will those dear parents do? Will they obey Jehovah's clear direction? Or will they rationalize that they can have regular association with the disfellowshipped son and call it, "necessary family business"? Watchtower 2011 July 15 p31 pictureIn making their decision, they must not fail to consider how Jehovah feels about what they are doing. … Today, Jehovah does not immediately execute those who violate his laws. He lovingly gives them an opportunity to repent from their unrighteous works. How would Jehovah feel, though, if the parents of an unrepentant wrongdoer kept putting Him to the test by having unnecessary association with their disfellowshipped son or daughter?" Watchtower 2011 Jul 15 p.31, p.32
"By cutting off contact with the disfellowshipped or disassociated one, you are showing that you hate the attitudes and actions that led to that outcome. However, you are also showing that you love the wrongdoer enough to do what is best for him or her. Your loyalty to Jehovah may increase the likelihood that the disciplined one will repent and return to Jehovah." Watchtower 2011 Feb 15 p.32
"Is strict avoidance really necessary? Yes for several reasons. ... In other cases, the disfellowshipped relative may be living outside the immediate family circle and home. Although there might be a need for limited contact on some rare occasion to care for a necessary family matter, any such contact should be kept to a minimum." Keep Yourself in God's Love (2008) pp.207,208
"If your child is unrepentant and is a baptized Christian, he may receive the strongest form of disciplinebeing disfellowshipped from the congregation. The extent of contact that you will then have with him depends on his age and other circumstances.
If the child is a minor and is living at home, you will naturally continue to take care of his physical needs. He also requires moral training and discipline, and you have the responsibility to provide these. (Proverbs 1:8-18; 6:20-22; 29:17) You may want to conduct a Bible study with him, involving his direct participation. You can draw his attention to various scriptures and to the publications provided by the faithful and discreet slave. (Matthew 24:45) You can also take the child with you to Christian meetings and have him sit with you. All of this can be done in hopes that he will take Scriptural counsel to heart.
The situation is different if the disfellowshipped one is not a minor and is living away from home. The apostle Paul admonished Christians in ancient Corinth: 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. (1Corinthians 5:11) While caring for necessary family matters may require some contact with the disfellowshipped person, a Christian parent should strive to avoid needless association.
When an erring child is disciplined by Christian shepherds, it would be unwise if you were to reject or minimize their Bible-based action. Siding with your rebellious child would not be providing any real protection from the Devil. Actually, you would be endangering your own spiritual health. On the other hand, by supporting the efforts of the shepherds, you will remain solid in the faith and will provide the best help for your child." Watchtower 2007 Jan 15 p.20 Remaining Steadfast When a Child Rebels
"What about speaking with a disfellowshipped person? While the Bible does not cover every possible situation, 2 John 10 helps us to get Jehovah's view of matters: "If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, never receive him into your homes or say a greeting to him." Commenting on this, The Watchtower of September 15, 1981, page 25, says: "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 disfellowshipped person?" Indeed, it is just as page 31 of the same issue of The Watchtower states: "The fact is that when a Christian gives himself over to sin and has to be disfellowshipped, he forfeits much: his approved standing with God; . . . sweet fellowship with the brothers, including much of the association he had with Christian relatives." Cooperating with the Scriptural arrangement to disfellowship and shun unrepentant wrongdoers is beneficial. It preserves the cleanness of the congregation and distinguishes us as upholders of the Bible's high moral standards. (1 Pet. 1:14-16) It protects us from corrupting influences. (Gal. 5:7-9) It also affords the wrongdoer an opportunity to benefit fully from the discipline received, which can help him to produce "peaceable fruit, namely, righteousness."-Heb. 12:11. After hearing a talk at a circuit assembly, a brother and his fleshly sister realized that they needed to make adjustments in the way they treated their mother, who lived elsewhere and who had been disfellowshipped for six years. Immediately after the assembly, the man called his mother, and after assuring her of their love, he explained that they could no longer talk to her unless there were important family matters requiring contact." Kingdom Ministry Aug 2002 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 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, in line with the divine principle: "Quit mixing in company with anyone called a brother that is a fornicator or a greedy person [or guilty of another gross sin], . . . not even eating with such a man."-1 Corinthians 5:11. 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
"Being limited by the laws of the worldly nation in which we live and also by the laws of God through Jesus Christ, we can take action against apostates only to a certain extent, that is, consistent with both sets of laws. The law of the land and God's law through Christ forbid us to kill apostates, even though they be members of our own flesh-and-blood family relationship. However, God's law requires us to recognize their being disfellowshiped from his congregation, and this despite the fact that the law of the land in which we live requires us under some natural obligation to live with and have dealings with such apostates under the same roof. Satan's influence through the disfellowshiped member of the family will be to cause the other member or members of the family who are in the truth to join the disfellowshiped member in his course or in his position toward God's organization. To do this would be disastrous, and so the faithful family member must recognize and conform to the disfellowship order. How would or could this be done while living under the same roof or in personal, physical contact daily with the disfellowshiped? In this way: By refusing to have religious relationship with the disfellowshiped." Watchtower 1952 Nov 15 p.703

If a person dies in a disfellowshipped state they still are not to be associated with, so Witnesses are persuaded from attending their funeral.

"In "Questions from Readers" (The Watchtower, 1961, p. 544) the position was taken that a funeral for a disfellowshiped person was improper. The comment was made: "We never want to give the impression to outsiders that a disfellowshiped person was acceptable in the congregation when in truth and in fact he was not acceptable but had been disfellowshiped from it." A Christian congregation would not want its good name besmirched by having it associated with any to whom 2 John 9, 10 applied, even in their death." Watchtower 1977 Jun 1 p.347

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

The latest elder's book, Shepherd the Flock of God (2010) reconfirms this, explaining that association with a relative can result in losing congregation privileges and even being disfellowshipped.

Assist those having undue association with disfellowshipped or disassociated relatives. ... If members of the congregation are known to have undue association with disfellowshipped or disassociated relatives who are not in the household, elders should counsel and reason with those members of the congregation from the Scriptures. ... If it is clear that a Christian is violating the spirit of the disfellowshipping decree in this regard and does not respond to counsel, it may be that he would not qualify for congregation privileges, which require one to be exemplary. He would not be dealt with judicially unless there is persistent spiritual association or he openly criticizes the disfellowshipping decision. pp.114-116

It should be noted that not all Witnesses strictly follow the Watchtower guidelines, but those that continue contact with disfellowshipped family or friends conceal such association for fear of being disfellowshipped themselves.

Watchtower Reasons for Disfellowshipping

Bible discussion of shunning in 1 Corinthian's 15 and 2 John is limited to just the following areas; Fornication, Greed, idolatry, Revilers, Practicing Drunkenness, Extortion and One who does not remain in the teaching of the Christ.

This list should be the full extent of reasons for which to be disfellowshipped. 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 Diotrephes, 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."

Following is the vast list of offences the Watchtower has created for which a Jehovah's Witness can be disfellowshipped or disassociated.

The abbreviations refer to the following publications:

- Kingdom Ministry (km)
- Watchtower (w)
- Jehovah's Witnesses - Proclaimers of Gods 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)

  1. 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
  2. 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
  3. 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
  4. Blood and blood transfusions - w61 1/15 ks91-E p.95, jv p.183-4
  5. Drug use - ks91-E p.96
  6. Drunkenness - ks91-E p.95, it-1 656
  7. Dishonest business practices - w63 7/1, w86 11/15 14
  8. 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
  9. False worship. Includes;
    • Attending another church ks91-E p.94
    • Following mourning customs that involve false worship - w85 4/15 p.25
  10. Fornication it-1 863
    • Bestiality - w83 6/1 p.25
    • Incestuous marriage - w78 3/15 p.26
    • Artificial insemination and surrogate motherhood.
      • "True Christians, therefore, avoid surrogate motherhood as well as any procedures that involve the use of donated sperm, eggs, or embryos" g04 9/22;
      • "Artificial insemination of a married woman by a donor other than her husband makes her guilty of adultery" 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
  11. Fraud - ks91-E p.94, om pp.142-3
  12. Gambling or related employment - w80 9/1, ks91-E p.136
  13. Gluttony - w86 5/1
  14. 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
  15. Homosexuality - w83 6/1 pp.24-6
  16. Idolatry - w52 3/1 p.138
  17. 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.
  18. This includes;
    • Sexual perversion
    • Disregard for Jehovah's moral standards
    • Disrespect, disregard or even contempt for standards, laws and authority,

    Rather than restricted to the usual definition of sexual perversion, the Watchtower defines "loose conduct" as including "disrespect to elders". This enables this term to be used to disfellowship for a wide range of offences not elsewhere covered, and as such is used to cover all manner of sins, such as refusal to cease fellowship with disfellowshipped people, or even being contemptuous in a judicial meeting where no other sin can be proven.

  19. Lying - ks91-E p.94, g00 2/8 p.21
  20. Non neutral activities (involvement in politics and the military) - ks91-E p.96
  21. 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
  22. Obscene speech - ks91-E p.95
  23. Parents condoning immorality - w56 p.566
  24. Political involvement, including voting or holding a political card in Malawi - ks91-E p.96 (w99 11/1 p.28 made voting a conscience matter)
  25. Porneia. Includes oral and anal sex between married couples, mutual masturbation between persons not married to each other, homosexuality, lesbianism, fornication, adultery, incest, and bestiality. - ks91-E p.93
  26. Slander - ks91-E p.94, w63 7/1, w89 10/15 p.14, om p.142
  27. Smoking or selling tobacco - km 2/74, ks91-E p.96
  28. Spiritism (includes yoga w02 8/1 p.22) - w55 10/1 p.607
  29. Stealing, thievery - om pp.142-5, ks91-E p.94
  30. Subversive activity - w95 10/1 p.31
  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
    • Practice of viewing abhorrent Pornography - w2012 3/15 p.31
  32. Violation of secular law if flagrant attitude - w86 10/1 p.31
  33. 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
  34. Wilful non support of family, endangerment of mates spirituality - w88 11/1 pp.22-3, km 9/73 p.8, ks91-E p.95
  35. Worldly celebrations such as Christmas - ks91-E p.95 (It appears celebrating birthdays is not a reason to be disfellowshipped)

Bible guidelines on disfellowshipping

Examining the Scriptures used to justify disfellowshipping, it becomes apparent that Christian writers prescribed marking a Christian wrongdoer but did not provide for the Watchtower practice of disfellowshipping and strict shunning.

Jesus Advice

Jesus commanded that we not judge but love all, particularly those we consider our enemies.

Luke 6:27-37 "But I say to YOU who are listening, Continue to love YOUR enemies, to do good to those hating YOU, to bless those cursing YOU, to pray for those who are insulting YOU. To him that strikes you on the one cheek, offer the other also; and from him that takes away your outer garment, do not withhold even the undergarment.Give to everyone asking you, and from the one taking your things away do not ask [them] back. Also, just as YOU want men to do to YOU, do the same way to them. And if YOU love those loving YOU, of what credit is it to YOU? For even the sinners love those loving them.And if YOU do good to those doing good to YOU, really of what credit is it to YOU? Even the sinners do the same.Also, if YOU lend [without interest] to those from whom YOU hope to receive, of what credit is it to YOU? Even sinners lend [without interest] to sinners that they may get back as much. To the contrary, continue to love YOUR enemies and to do good and to lend [without interest], not hoping for anything back; and YOUR reward will be great, and YOU will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind toward the unthankful and wicked. Continue becoming merciful, just as YOUR Father is merciful. Moreover, stop judging, and YOU will by no means be judged; and stop condemning, and YOU will by no means be condemned."

Jesus introduced the standard on how Christian 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).

1 Corinthians 5:11

The majority of information on how to treat wrongdoers within the congregation comes from Paul and the main support the Watchtower uses to enforce shunning is from 1 Corinthians 5.

Paul showed a balanced approach to wrongdoers, advising not to socialise with such ones, but to still admonish [them] 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.

Paul did not indicate that marking was only for non-serious sin as 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 and shun such people, but rather instructed the congregation to mark or take note of such a person, yet continue admonishing him as a brother. In similar vein the following scriptures do not instruct complete shunning of the person, but rather to take note so as not to be influenced by their wrong ways.

Romans 16:17 "Now I exhort YOU, brothers, to keep your eye on (the word 'mark' is used in many translations) those who cause divisions and occasions for stumbling contrary to the teaching that YOU have learned, and avoid them. "
Titus 3:10 "As for a man that promotes a sect, reject him after a first and a second admonition; knowing that such a man has been turned out of the way and is sinning, he being self-condemned."

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 "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 the Watchtower has explained, this refers to socialising as friends.

"God's Word states that we should 'not even eat with such a man.' (1 Cor. 5:11) Hence, we also avoid social fellowship with an expelled person. This would rule out joining him in a picnic, party, ball game, or trip to the mall or theater or sitting down to a meal with him either in the home or at a restaurant." Kingdom Ministry 2002 Aug p.3

This does not state that this type of person must never be spoken to. As Paul explained at 2 Thessalonians 3:14-15 (quoted earlier), if they are at a meeting it would be reasonable to encourage them. Most certainly a polite greeting is acceptable.

1 Corinthians is also 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 when they are no longer recognised as a Jehovah's Witness brother. 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 what they were disfellowshipped for and are no longer known in the community as a brother, and so their continued shunning is unjustified.

It can also be noted that Paul did not insist that everyone participate in the shunning. Later he wrote that the "majority" participate in the rebuke, showing that some in the congregation may choose not to show rebuke to the person.

2 Corinthians 2:5-6 "Now if anyone has caused sadnessM, he has saddened, not me, but all of YOU to an extent-not to be too harsh in what I say. This rebuke given by the majority is sufficient for such a man, …"

The New World Translation reference M shows Paul was here referring to the situation discussed at 1 Corinthians 5, (as do Christian scholars).

Paul gave similar advice on a number of occasions to 'mark' and 'avoid' wrongdoers. This does not mean that the person must be totally ignored, never uttered a greeting, avoiding eye contact, crossing the street to get away from, all common experiences of disfellowshipped Jehovah's Witnesses.

2 John 10

Watchtower extreme treatment of not even saying "hello" to a disfellowshipped Witnesses is not based on 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. 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. If anyone comes to YOU and does not bring this teaching, never receive him into YOUR homes or say a greeting to him. 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 forms of sin, as done by the Watchtower Society.

In order to justify their stance, the Watchtower describes those that stop being Witnesses as apostate and of the Antichrist, saying that "the word apostasy comes from a Greek word that literally means a standing away from but has the sense of desertion, abandonment or rebellion ... [and included] abandonment of right moral standards ... willfully abandoning the Christian congregation thereby become part of the 'antichrist." Watchtower 1985 Jul 15 p.31 In reality, many who stop being Witnesses continue to follow Jesus and Bible morals, but have come to believe that the Watchtower Society is not directed by Jesus.

Interestingly, Johns 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" needs to be understood in light of first century practice. In the following article, the Watchtower incorrectly claims that John used the term "greeting" to indicate a simple hello.

"John here used khairo, which was a greeting like good day or hello. (Acts 15:23; Matthew 28:9) He did not use aspazomai (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 Apr 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. This is incorrect, and the opposite is true. Strong's Concordance 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 persons 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 as such is being misused to its extremity.

Historical Watchtower Development

Disfellowshipping was not practiced in its current form by the Watchtower Society until 1952.

Russell discussed disfellowshipping and avoiding wrongdoers as early as 1893. However, this was not applied to Watchtower followers, but rather that Christians in general should avoid those who show themselves to be untrue to God.

"To be separate does not mean to be friends and companions, or to be in fellowship on any grounds. It means that we are to make a clean-cut division between ourselves and all the unclean, the impure in heart, as manifested by their disloyalty to the truth, and thereby to God, its great Author: and that this separation is to be so marked that the disfellowshipped one will be sure to know it. and that none can mistake our obedience and loyalty to the lord and his truth. There is to be no trifling or half-way obedience in this matter: for we are not only to be separate in spirit from the enemies of the Lord, but we are not to touch the unclean. As the Apostle elsewhere says we are to avoid them-to have no part or lot with them." Watchtower 1893 Oct 15 p.1588
"We are not of those who disfellowship Christian brethren on account of some differences of opinion; but when it comes to the point of denying the very foundation of all christianity we must speak out and withstand all such to the face, for they become the enemies of the cross of Christ." Watchtower 1882 Dec p.423

Later, a procedure was implemented where a 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. It was primarily for a person that rejected the value of Christ's Ransom.

"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." Matt. 18:17" Studies Series VI - The New Creation (1904) pp.289, 290
"The Scriptural basis of fellowship and disfellowship is both a much broader and a much more simple one. It is simply of two parts: (1) An acceptance of Christ as the Redeemer, and (2) A full consecration to him. Whoever complies with this scriptural formula is entitled to the love, respect, sympathy and care of every other such one; for such, and such only, constitute the church which God recognizes - the church whose names are written in heaven." Watchtower 1905 p.3673
"According to this Scripture the very most that the church could do would be that, after having vainly endeavored to get the brother to repent and reform, it should withdraw special brotherly fellowship from him until such time as he would express willingness thereafter to do right. Then he should be received again into full fellowship.
In the meantime the brother may merely be treated in the kindly, courteous way in which it would be proper for us to treat any publican or Gentile, withholding the special rights or privileges or greetings or voting opportunities that belong to the church as a class separate from the world." Watchtower 1919 Mar 1 p.69

Russell and Rutherford were lenient towards doctrinal disagreements, advising that making all followers think alike on doctrine is what originally caused the great apostasy, a tactic of Satan and a method of control.

"Rather, like the church of Rome their ["Religious leaders of today"] influence is exerted to restrain investigation within the sectarian limits. With the implied threat of disfellowship, they urge their ministers and students not to search continually for truth, but to accept the voice of their sect as infallible." Watchtower 1887 Apr p.923
"The great adversary is wily, and at all times is quick to appeal to passion. He persuades some that they must take a radical stand against some secular work or activity, and to proceed at once to disfellowship others who cannot conscientiously take this same stand. Somehow they seem to think that their radical stand entitles them in a very special sense to divine favour and blessing. his attitude leads them to violate principle in various ways: (1) By judging and condemning others who do not see as they do; (2) By refusing to fellowship those who still believe in the ransom, the restitution, the high calling." Watchtower 1919 Feb 1 p.6385
"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

As late as 1947, the Awake described the practice of excommunication as an unscriptural, pagan practice, using Hebrews 10: 26-31 to show it should be left to God to judge individuals.

Awake 1947 page 27 excommunication

Quite remarkably, it was in the years surrounding the above article that Knorr was setting up the disfellowshipping arrangement followed to this day. In the Watchtower 1944 May 15 p.151, responsibility to judge an individual was moved from the congregation to judicial committees. The turning point came in 1952, where a Watchtower article dismissed Jesus remarks to refer a wrongdoer to the congregation, although with no explanation as why:

"There is one more scripture quite pertinent here, at Matthew 18:15-17. ... This scripture here has nothing to do with disfellowshiping on a congregational basis. When it says go to the congregation, it means go to the elders or the mature ones in the congregation and discuss your own private difficulties. This scripture has to do with merely a personal disfellowshiping." Watchtower 1952 Mar. 1 p.147

This 1952 Watchtower was devoted to delivering clear guidelines on updated Watchtower disfellowship policy, clarifying what was to become an ever increasing list of offences. It denounced the disfellowshipped person in the strongest of terms.

We might wonder, then, since this congregation which God is developing or bringing into existence is based on love, why anyone should ever want to talk about disfellowshipping or putting people out of this congregation. There certainly must be some reason. Well, the reason for disfellowshipping is that some persons get into this congregation of God that do not love Christ. Those who are acquainted with the situation in the congregation should never say Hello or Goodbye to him. He is not welcome in our midst, we avoid him. Such an individual has no place in the clean organization or congregation of God. He should go back to the wicked group that he once came from and die with that wicked group with Satans organization. Watchtower 1952 Mar 1 pp.131,134

This change was later justified as a result of worsening "moral corruption" following World War II.

"Even as early as 1904, the first president of the Watch Tower Society, in his book The New Creation, outlined a Scriptural procedure for dealing with violators, even to the point of withdrawing from them the congregation’s “fellowship and any and all signs or manifestations of brotherhood.” But this extreme measure of excommunication or disfellowshiping was not widely practiced among the congregations and was not made a requirement on congregations until 1952. No longer could Christian conduct be viewed simply as a matter affecting only the individual or individuals involved." Watchtower 1967 Oct 1 p.596
"During the years following World War II the moral corruption of the world began to reach frightful proportions. The possibility existed that God’s clean organization could become contaminated by such corruptive influences. But Jehovah was interested in his people, just as in times past, so through his channel of communication he lovingly brought forward information to counteract the filth that could tarnish or cause his people to become unholy. (Matt. 24:45-47) Particularly from 1946, personal moral cleanness became a matter of much greater concern to the Lord’s people. (2 Cor. 7:1) Starting in 1952, the more formal Scriptural arrangement of disfellowshiping wrongdoers was instituted. Those who committed gross sins such as adultery and fornication were expelled from the congregation, if they did not repent. (1 Cor. 5:11-13) God’s organization would not tolerate persons who refused to keep unspotted, clean and pure in the sight of Jehovah." Watchtower 1976 Feb 15 p.122

In the Watchtower 1955 Oct 1 p.607, even to associate with a disfellowshipped person became a reason to be disfellowshipped:

If a publisher refuses to do this and ignores the prohibition on associating with the disfellowshipped one, that publisher is rebelling against the congregation of Jehovah, and rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as idolatry and teraphim. If after sufficient warning the publisher persists in associating with the disfellowshipped person instead of aligning himself with Jehovah's organization he also should be disfellowshipped.

Shepherd the Flock of God (2011) shows that associating with a disfellowshipped nonrelative continues as a disfellowshipping offence by including such association under the categorization of brazen conduct.

"Though this is not an exhaustive list, brazen conduct may be involved in the following if the wrongdoer has an insolent, contemptuous attitude made evident by a practice of these things:
Willful, continued, unnecessary association with disfellowshipped nonrelatives despite repeated counsel." p.60

Members of the congregation are instructed to watch each other and alert the elders to any noticed indiscretions. With a degree of persuasiveness members are told that the Highest Level of authority demands they even break their countries law to report on their brothers.

"This command from the Highest Level of authority in the universe put the responsibility upon each Israelite to report to the judges any serious wrongdoing that he observed so that the matter might be handled. While Christians are not strictly under the Mosaic Law, its principles still apply in the Christian congregation. Hence, there may be times when a Christian is obligated to bring a matter to the attention of the elders. True, it is illegal in many countries to disclose to unauthorized ones what is found in private records. But if a Christian feels, after prayerful consideration, that he is facing a situation where the law of God required him to report what he knew despite the demands of lesser authorities, then that is a responsibility he accepts before Jehovah. There are times when a Christian must obey God as ruler rather than men. Acts 5:29" Watchtower 1987 Sep 1 p.13

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 Jehovah directs an organization's rules? When a situation arises in a congregation that is not clearly specified in the Bible or a Watchtower publication and the elders and branch feel unable to deal with it this is referred to the Governing Body. How does the Governing Body arrive at a new principle for being disfellowshipped? Does the Holy Spirit guide them to examine scripture and arrive at a uniform consensus on what God's standard is? No, the vote does not have to be unanimous. New laws can be introduced with only a two-thirds majority vote.(6) For this reason both the regulation on organ transplants and oral sex was able to be changed back and forth within the space of little over a decade, with huge affect on member's lives.

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

One may have hoped that the draconian system of disfellowshipping may have eased over the years, yet the opposite is true. In 1974 there was a softening of the 1952 stance, with release of the following article, but this was short lived;

"Congregational elders, as well as individual members of a congregation, therefore, ought to guard against developing an attitude approaching that which some Jewish rabbinical writers fomented toward Gentiles in viewing them as virtual enemies. It is right to hate the wrong committed by the disfellowshiped one, but it is not right to hate the person nor is it right to treat such ones in an inhumane way. We may note, too, that at 1 Corinthians 5:11 the apostle warns against mixing in company with one who "is" a fornicator or practicer of some other kind of serious wrongdoing. What, however, of the one who has been disfellowshiped for being that kind of person but who thereafter, either at an early point or at a later point in time, gives consistent evidence of discontinuing such wrong practice, stopping it? Can it be said that he or she still "is" a fornicator or whatever type of wrongdoer such a one was that caused him or her to be as "leaven" toward the congregation? For example, a young person disfellowshiped for fornication may thereafter marry, raise a family and live a respectable life. Or one who was disfellowshiped for drunkenness may abandon such practice and, if drinking at all, may do so in moderation only. By such changes these individuals may now regain the respect of the community. Such ones may not yet have come and formally sought reinstatement by the congregation. Is there, however, not an evident difference between these and others who continue right on in the wrongdoing that brought their disfellowshiping? Those giving up the wrong practice may still manifest some appreciation for Christian truth, perhaps even defending the true Christian congregation when someone speaks evil against it. Should not such circumstances be given due weight and have an effect on our attitude as a congregation toward such ones? Surely if the prodigal son of the parable had returned home in a drunken state, perhaps dragging along one of his harlot companions, the father's reaction would not have been the same. But the father had reason to believe that the son was approaching with a right motive and, rather than suspect the worst, the father hoped the best and went out to meet his errant son." Watchtower 1974 Aug 1 pp.467-469

Unfortunately, this more reasonable stance reverted back to strict shunning in 1981, with a comprehensive discussion in the Watchtower Sep 15. The 2008 book Keep Yourself in God's Love continues to refer to the 1981 Watchtower as the standard to be followed.

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, and John reprimanded Diotrephes for attempting to throw people out of the congregation unnecessarily at 3 John 9-10.

Bible discussion of shunning by Paul and John is limited to just the following areas; Fornication, Greed, idolatry, Revilers, Practicing Drunkenness, Extortion and One who does not remain in the teaching of the Christ. Revelation 21:8 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.

Further rules continue to be introduced, such as the Watchtower 2006 Jul 15 pp.29-31 explanation that "gross uncleanness" and "uncleanness with greediness" allows disfellowshipping to at times extend to heavy petting, sexual phone calls and viewing pornography.

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.

"Hear only those witnesses who have relevant testimony regarding the alleged wrongdoing. Those who intend to testify only about the character of the accused should not be allowed do so. The witnesses should not hear details and testimony of other witnesses. Observers should not present for moral support. Recording should not be allowed." Shepherd the Flock of God p.90

This star-chamber setting opens the procedure to abuse.

"I cannot tell you how humiliating and degrading it is as a woman to sit before 3 men (1 that I had known my whole life) and have to describe in graphic detail what I had done sexually that was sinful." - Email from reader

The word "judicial committee" does not appear in the Bible and goes against Bible guidelines. 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 held by Israelites at the city gates so a fair discussion with onlookers could be made, or in front of the Christian congregation. 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
"Since the local court was situated at the city gates, there was no question about the trial being public! (Deut. 16:18-20) No doubt the public trials helped influence the judges toward carefulness and justice, qualities that sometimes vanish in secret star-chamber hearings." Watchtower 1981 Jan 1 p.17

At Matthew 18:17, Jesus instructed that unresolved wrongdoing should be taken "to the congregation", not a select committee of congregation leaders. This is how misdemeanors were originally dealt with. As discussed above, the judicial committee arrangement was not inaugurated until 1944 by Knorr.

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 restricted to:

"[Name of person] is no longer one of Jehovah's Witnesses." Organised to do Jehovah's Will (2005) p.154

Speed of process

In the scriptures it makes no mention of a time limit over which the process must take place. It does indicate that quite some period of time may be involved;

Galatians 6:1 Brothers, even though a man takes some false step before he is aware of it, YOU who have spiritual qualifications try to readjust such a man in a spirit of mildness, as you each keep an eye on yourself, for fear you also may be tempted.

To readjust a brother could take considerable time. If a person is addicted to certain practices or if they are having doubts about doctrine it could take months of effort to overcome these.Yet in many cases when a Jehovah's Witness confesses or another person reports their activities to the elders they are disfellowshipped within a few weeks. Furthermore, if the process is to readjust someone, it implies the person would not be disfellowshipped in the event the offender is readjusted and quits his ways, such as after taking blood or stopping an adulterous affair. Yet the general practice in these cases is automatic disassociation or likely disfellowshipping.

Punishment

Shunning was to be used for readjustment or to protect the congregation. However it is regularly used as punishment. When a person confesses to a wrong practice committed and ceased many years ago they have often been disfellowshipped for a wrong attitude, which is clearly done for punishment.

Overly Harsh

A review of Insight on the Scriptures, Volume 1 p.788 Expelling shows that many scriptures that relate to disfellowshipping discuss assisting or reproving the person.

2 Corinthians 2:5-8 "Now if anyone has caused sadness, he has saddened, not me, but all of YOU to an extentnot to be too harsh in what I say. This rebuke given by the majority is sufficient for such a man, so that, on the contrary now, YOU should kindly forgive and comfort [him], that somehow such a man may not be swallowed up by his being overly sad. Therefore I exhort YOU to confirm YOUR love for him."

Persons can be so traumatised by being disfellowshipped that many contemplate and carry out suicide. It is common to suffer Post Traumatic Shock Disorder. The harsh stance of the Watchtower has a counter productive affect. Being Disfellowshipped has been the catalyst to cause many to doubt whether the Watchtower is the true religion. The trauma and effort involved in being reinstated that caused them to begin researching outside Watchtower publications and to come to the conclusion that the Watchtower it is not Gods chosen way.

With many religions when a person no longer believes or is practicing sin they will tend to drift away from Church and associate with like minded individuals outside the congregation. This is how it is with unbaptised Witness youths; they leave over time, generally in their teens. Most that do not follow Watchtower guidelines or that do not believe it is the Truth stop going to meetings. However disfellowshipping is a form of entrapment that forces baptised Witnesses, including myself to spend years going to meetings whilst not believing or adhering to Watchtower regulations. This is done to avoid being disfellowshipped, in order to prevent being shunned by family. By encouraging people to stay and lead double lives disfellowshipping possibly results in more people being influenced than if the wrongdoers are encouraged to drift away.

Pharisaic

Since the word disfellowship does not appear in the Scriptures, the New World Translation Reference Bible "Bible words indexed" directs the reader to the term "expelled".

"DISFELLOWSHIP(PED). See EXPEL, EXPELLED"
Rbi8 p.1507

Under Expelled the Scriptures are

"EXPELLED,
Joh 9:22 e. from synagogue
Joh 12:42 not to be e. from synagogue"
Rbi8 p.1510

Both references are regarding the Pharisees practice of expelling from the Synagogue.

John 9:22 "His parents said these things because they were in fear of the Jews, for the Jews had already come to an agreement that, if anyone confessed him as Christ, he should get expelled from the synagogue."

The closest Scriptural example the Watchtower can find for the term disfellowship is that of the Pharisees.

Hatred

The direction given in the Watchtower goes strongly against Christian examples when demanding members hate an apostate.

"The obligation to hate lawlessness also applies to all activity by apostates. Our attitude toward apostates should be that of David, who declared: Do I not hate those who are intensely hating you" Watchtower 1992 Jul 15 pp.12-13 Christ Hated Lawlessness Do You?
"Apostasy is, in reality, a rebellion against Jehovah. Some apostates profess to know and serve God, but they reject teachings or requirements set out in his Word. Others claim to believe the Bible, but they reject Jehovah's organization and actively try to hinder its work. When they deliberately choose such badness after knowing what is right, when the bad becomes so ingrained that it is an inseparable part of their makeup, then a Christian must hate (in the Biblical sense of the word) those who have inseparably attached themselves to the badness. True Christians share Jehovah's feelings toward such apostates; they are not curious about apostate ideas. On the contrary, they "feel a loathing" toward those who have made themselves God's enemies, but they leave it to Jehovah to execute vengeance."Watchtower 1993 Oct 1 p.19
"Haters of God and his people are to be hated, but this does not mean that we will take any opportunity of bringing physical hurt to them in a spirit of malice or spite, for both malice and spite belong to the Devil, whereas pure hatred does not. We must hate in the truest sense, which is to regard with extreme and active aversion, to consider as loathsome, odious, filthy, to detest. Surely any haters of God are not fit to live on his beautiful earth. The earth will be rid of the wicked and we shall not need to lift a finger to cause physical harm to come to them, for God will attend to that, but we must have a proper perspective of these enemies. His name signifies recompense to the enemies." Watchtower 1952 Oct 1 p.599

Jesus and Paul both said we should not hate but rather love our enemies. This was to apply even when someone is attacking our faith and practice.

Matthew 5:44-45 "But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust,"
Romans 12:17-21 17 Return evil for evil to no one. Provide fine things in the sight of all men. 18 If possible, as far as it depends upon YOU, be peaceable with all men. 19 Do not avenge yourselves, beloved, but yield place to the wrath; for it is written: Vengeance is mine; I will repay, says Jehovah. 20 But, if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by doing this you will heap fiery coals upon his head. 21 Do not let yourself be conquered by the evil, but keep conquering the evil with the good.

When discussing a person seduced by apostasy Paul said at 2 Thessalonians 3:15 And yet do not be considering him as an enemy, but continue admonishing him as a brother.

When discussing that for everlasting life it is necessary to love your neighbor as yourself, Jesus used the illustration of the Good Samaritan to explain who ones neighbour is. (Luke 10:25-37) The Jews regarded the Samaritans as apostates of the Jewish religion, yet Jesus says our love is to encompass these people as well.

Baptized without understanding

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

"(2) 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. Few realise that they have committed their bedroom lives, work choices and life long relationship with family and friends to the Organization. Terms such as ecclesiastical government of Jehovah's Witnesses are never used in the Watchtower publications that are issued to the public, but are terms used within confidential letters to branches and the elders. Would as many people be baptised if they realised it was not only to Jehovah, Jesus and the Holy Spirit that they were being baptised but to an ecclesiastical government that had the right to introduce any rule at any time?

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 clearly specified in the Bible. Most of the reasons are scattered through various Watchtower publications, but a newly interested one is rarely shown all of these. Neither do the Watchtower publications contain a full list of reasons for being disfellowshipped. Even people involved in the organization for years are generally unaware of all the reasons. In regards to disfellowshipping, Pay Attention to Yourselves and to All the Flock states on page 101 that elders should be sure to proceed "in harmony with the most recent statements by the Society."

Only elders have access to Pay Attention to Yourselves and to All the Flock and letters from the Society. In 2010, a updated Elder's book - "Shepherd the Flock of God" - was released. Seven of its twelve chapters are devoted to disfellowshipping. A Letter to Elders, Oct 7, 2010 shows how secretive this book is, when it says women are not allowed to bind the book, even under supervision:

"There is no objection if an elder personally spiral binds or laminates his own textbook or does so for other elders. If he has another baptized brother who is not an elder do the work for him, the elder must watch while the work is being done. Outside companies, unbelievers, or sisters are not permitted to do this work. The material in the book is confidential, and confidentiality must be preserved."

Likewise, Letter to Elders, August 23, 2010 states:

"The information is designed for use by the elders only, and other individuals should not have any opportunity to read the information."

Even elders do not get to know the guidelines for all situations, as more difficult scenarios are discussed in letters specifically to the Bethel Branches. Most people are baptised with no knowledge that these books and letters even exist, let alone know what is contained in them.

How much information did Jesus provide the Apostles that he forbade sharing with anyone else? A religion that disfellowships and shuns should be transparent with providing full access to information regarding these rules prior to a persons involvement, rather than hiding it even from long term members.

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. That summer I served as a pioneer for the first time." 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 childs 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

Family

2013 District convention talk on shunning children.

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, levelling 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

The following 17 minute recording was taken by a girl attempting to be reinstated, and highlights the procedure well. It starts slowly, but is quite heartbreaking at the end. You will probably agree with the girl's comment regarding the elders lack of heart.

If your browser does not support this audio element, download as a MP3 8.4Mb, WAV 16.4Mb, or OGG 8.7Mb.

In the parable of the prodigal son Jesus outlined the type of love the Father has for us and that we should show each other. (Luke 15:11-32) The youngest child of a rich family spent years squandering his inheritance living a life involved in numerous contemptible sins. Jesus showed that despite this, on seeing his son return home the aged father ran to his child with open arms. He did not wait to question the sons current actions, did not attempt to determine his sons motives and repentance, nor give him a period of lower status as punishment.

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 however requires a formal reinstatement process through the body of elders.

"To be forgiven and reinstated, however, he must humbly obey God’s laws, produce fruits befitting repentance, and apply to the elders for reinstatement." Watchtower 1992 Sep 15 p.12

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.

Take the fairly common example of an engaged couple that commit fornication in the weeks prior to their wedding. If discovered they may be disfellowshipped. Once married they are not immediately reinstated as time is made to pass before their request for reinstatement will be considered. They then are forced to go through the formal process of being deemed repentant. Yet on the day of their marriage they are no longer fornicators as they are scripturally married. There is no scriptural reason they should no longer be associated with. That they are not automatically and immediately reinstated indicates that the Witness practice is based on punishment. This punishment extends for some months after their reinstatement until the elders determine they are worthy to once more participate at meetings.

Likewise, many are disfellowshipped as teenagers for drunkenness, smoking or immorality. Over the years they stop this behaviour, possibly marrying and having children. Scriptural principles show that since they are no longer practicing wrongdoing and are not known in the community as a brother it is acceptable for them to be spoken to. On the other hand, Watchtower legislation dictates they must not be spoken to until they resume meeting attendance, apply for reinstatement, are approved and then had a public announcement made. For a high percentage of those raised as Jehovah's Witnesses there is no desire to return to the Watchtower Organization and so this process is never initiated, meaning their family relationship is damaged for the remainder of their lives.

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. The Bible writers gave no such rules.

"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

Sharing in the field service is restored when the individual is reinstated. Other privileges, such as commenting at meetings, handling parts on the program, and offering prayer at meetings, can be restored progressively when it is determined that the individual has progressed spiritually to the point that he is qualified and when it is judged by the elders that the extending of such privileges will not be offensive to the congregation.

"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. (For details see The Watchtower, 8/15/65, p. 497; Lamp, p. 121.)" Kingdom Ministry 1970 Dec p.4

Conclusion

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 ones brother and to ones 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:

estimated number of people disfellowshipped

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

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

(3)"Disfellowshiping means the casting of a member out of Gods household; and if one should remain in this disfellowshiped condition till he died, it would mean his everlasting destruction as a person who is rejected by God. Staying away from meetings leads in that very direction." Watchtower 1965 Dec 15 p.751

(4) 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.

(5) Disassociation is generally used for a Witness that voluntarily removes themselves from the congregation. For the sake of this article, disfellowshipping and disassociation will be considered the same, as the implications to the individual are almost identical, in both cases leading to shunning. Organized to Accomplish Our Ministry (1972) states;

"The term disassociation applies to the action taken by a person who, although being a baptized member of the congregation, deliberately repudiates Christian standing, rejecting the congregation and stating that he no longer wants to be recognized or known as one of Jehovah's Witnesses. … Also, a person might renounce his place in the Christian congregation by his actions, such as by becoming part of a secular organization the objective of which is contrary to the Bible and, hence, is under judgment by Jehovah God. (Compare Revelation 19:17-21; Isaiah 2:4.) So if a person who is a Christian chooses to join those who are disapproved by God, it would be fitting for the congregation to acknowledge by a brief announcement that he has disassociated himself and is no longer one of Jehovah's Witnesses. Such a person would be viewed in the same way as a disfellowshipped person."

(6) "At a session three weeks later, April 30 [1975], President Knorr surprised us by making a motion that thenceforth all matters be decided by a two-thirds vote of the active membership (which by then numbered seventeen)." Raymond Franz, Crisis of Conscience (Commentary Press Fourth Edition 2004) p.85.

The effect of requiring a 2/3 majority is discussed in Franz's book In Search of Christian Freedom. Click Here for a scan of the relevant pages.

Recommended Links

The Myths of Disfellowshipping

Towerwatch.com/Witnesses/Disfellowshipping

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