The hurtful practice of disfellowshipping (or shunning) engaged in by Jehovah’s Witnesses has been defended by apologists as a loving and righteous arrangement approved by God Himself.
It is interesting to note that many times when arguing against the Trinity doctrine, Jehovah’s Witnesses will relish the argument that the word “Trinity” is not to be found anywhere in the Bible. Well, the word “disfellowshipping” isn’t in the Bible either, but that doesn’t stop Witnesses from enthusiastically implementing this practice.
Apologists will often misquote from among the few Bible verses that are intended to suggest merely limiting association with those considered harmful to one’s spirituality. (1 Cor 5:11) Such scriptures never imply that wayward Christians should be altogether abandoned and never spoken to. Christ said that those who do not listen to the congregation should be considered as tax collectors, with whom he was known for sharing meals. (Matt 18:17; Mark 2:15-17) And Paul’s words at 2 Thessalonians clearly state that those who are “not obedient” should continue to be entreated as brothers. (2 Thess 3:15)
Ruling through fear
The Jehovah’s Witness faith is led by the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society, a small group of highly controlling men who rule through fear and punishment. I would know, because I was a volunteer at their World Headquarters in Brooklyn, New York (Bethel) during the 1980s. I lived with these leaders and got to see the fruits of their “tree” first hand. – Matt. 7:17-20
In my book, Journey To God’s House, I describe a very controlling and punishing type of religion. Having been a Witness almost from birth, I didn’t know any better as to how to respond to this type of control. One story I tell is that of a powerful brother at Bethel who saw fit to complain about the underwear I chose to wear, which he noticed because we changed in the same locker room.
Rather than entreating me respectfully about it, he tried to control me by hurling hurtful epithets my way. That’s right – a so-called “mature older man” resorted to name-calling with a young idealistic volunteer over nothing more than my wearing of colored briefs.
In retrospect, what business was it of his what kind of underwear I was wearing anyway? After I stood up to my overseer for calling me names in front of my friends, I was convinced I would get kicked out of Bethel – such is the way Jehovah’s Witness leaders think. They can threaten you, insult you and ultimately eject you at any time if you don’t toe the line.
The disfellowshipping practice is one of Watchtower’s best ways of controlling the “flock.” Shunning has gotten so out of hand that it can be wielded for any number of reasons. (For a list of reasons, click here) All you need to do is say you don’t really believe the year 1914 has any significance in Bible prophecy, or accept a blood transfusion to save your child’s life. Do any such thing, and you should brace yourself for brutal reprisals.
Bad association – shunning on a whim
But what is not often discussed is the paranoia surrounding “bad association.” This can be more insidious than disfellowshipping in my opinion, because at least with disfellowshipping you have a kangaroo court of elders charged with doing the deed. Marking someone as bad association is something any individual JW can do on their own.
In my final story in Journey To God’s House I relate how simply leaving Bethel was enough for me to get “marked” by everyone at Bethel I had ever known. Because I didn’t have a satisfactory excuse for leaving, and simply wanted to go home and start a family and have a normal life, I was marked as a spiritual loser to be avoided. It was as though I had a disease that was contagious.
In the end, however, I believe these practices have done more harm than good to the faith. People are seeing the religion for what it really is. I left the Witnesses myself due to the unloving conditions I endured over the years. Thanks to the influence of extreme mind control it took me many years to figure it all out.
But now that my eyes are wide open, I can see that in the end it is I who “marked” them.
Brock Talon is the author of Journey To God’s House – available from Amazon on this link.