It is a predicament that all too many visitors to this website, myself included, find themselves in: believing Jehovah’s Witness relatives cutting off all contact in the belief they must do so in order to show loyalty to God.
And there appears to be no sign of Watchtower relaxing its cruel shunning policy, which it has repeatedly denied even having – especially if a video from the 2015 regional convention series is anything to go by.
In the video, which has just started to be circulated on Facebook, a JW couple identified as Robert and Brenda Sutton are interviewed about their experience raising three children. It emerges that one of their children was disfellowshipped not long after getting a new job where there was “questionable association with coworkers.”
The Suttons, who are now working at the Watchtower bethel facilities in Warwick, unashamedly talk about how they “cut off all association” with their child after he or she was disciplined by elders. They describe how the shunning eventually led to him or her returning to the organization.
After they give their experience, the speaker praises the couple for their “excellent example” as they exit the stage to applause from the audience.
What makes this video especially difficult to watch is how the parents who did the shunning are quick to portray themselves as victims in this scenario, with seemingly no thought for the trauma of ostracism inflicted on their child.
“It was one of the hardest things that I ever had to face,” relates Brenda Sutton. “I had many sleepless nights praying to Jehovah, but I came to realize that we needed to trust in what Proverbs 22 and verse 6 says: ‘train a boy in the way he should go, even when he grows old he will not depart from it.'”
In other words: train up a boy to believe what you believe without question, and if he grows up and walks away from it of his own free will you can bank on him returning if you are prepared to emotionally blackmail him.
“We began to question ourselves as parents,” says Robert Sutton. “Where did we go wrong? Were we too strict? Were we too lenient? Just what did we do that was wrong?”
Guilt and self-loathing are typical by-products of cult indoctrination, and few things induce these toxic feelings quite as well as an adult son or daughter walking away from the faith despite the best efforts of believing parents to super-impose their beliefs on him or her.
“But one thing we did for sure, and that’s in addition to multiple times with praying to Jehovah,” added Robert Sutton. “We made sure that we cling to our spiritual routine.”
Yes – staying busy, busy, busy in “Jehovah’s service” helps keep those feelings of guilt at bay. You may have let the Creator down by failing to calibrate your child’s brain to his specifications, but at least you can put in extra ministry time to compensate.
“What was it that moved your child to return to Jehovah?” asks the speaker.
“Well it was the missed association with the family,” says Brenda Sutton proudly and unflinchingly. “And here’s why, I had always told our kids… ‘I would die for you, I love you, would die for you, but if you ever leave Jehovah I wouldn’t be there’. And they knew that we wouldn’t waver on this. But sad to say, and as hard as it was, we had to cut off all association.”
Speaking for myself, those who are being shunned by JW relatives don’t want their relatives to die for them. They want them to live with them and be in their lives.
A person could easily find himself or herself in a situation where they choose to die for a complete stranger, perhaps a small child on a road as a car approaches, but that doesn’t mean they have full love for the person they are saving. They are merely showing basic human solidarity for a vulnerable person in peril.
Real love is when you stand by your child no matter what, through good times and bad, and sadly JW parents who capitulate to the cruel and baseless rules about shunning can never lay claim to such love. Their love is conditional – based on their offspring sharing the beliefs they have been indoctrinated to accept, usually by their own parents.
Speaking as someone who has recently become a father, I know that wild horses couldn’t pull me away from my baby daughter – especially not something as frivolous and petty as ideological differences.
It saddens me to think my father once felt his own love for me was unbreakable, perhaps when he once cradled me in his arms when I was a baby. The fact that a cult can erode such strong parental bonds only underscores for me how corrosive Watchtower ideology is, and how important it is that it be combated, refuted and dismantled wherever possible.