Jehovah’s Witnesses commonly practice the shunning of those who have left the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society. There are varying degrees of shunning, and for varying reasons, but there is one constant: the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society Organization, aka the Jehovah’s Witnesses, propagate the practice of shunning among their members, and have for a minimum of 65 years (Nov. 15, 1952 Watchtower, Questions from Readers).
People outside the Watchtower organization rarely know that Jehovah’s Witnesses shun, nor understand the effects that shunning has on the members of this society. These effects range from divided families to suicide. Shunning is not to be taken lightly, but it might be conquerable.
For some, especially those who are disfellowshipped (officially exiled from the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society), being shunned means complete loss of contact with family and friends who remain Jehovah’s Witnesses. For these ones there is an abrupt rift, severe emotional pain, and the feeling of deep loss between the Jehovah’s Witness family member or friend who left, or was disfellowshipped from, the Watchtower Society, and those who are stay behind in the organization.
The purpose of this shunning is to cause the one who is shunned to be so miserable and lonely that they return to the “the truth” and to “Jehovah and His earthly theocratic organization.” This is the shunning in which the Jehovah’s Witnesses were recently instructed to engage at the 2016 Watchtower District Convention. (Click here for a ten minute portion of the talk.)
For others, shunning entails not being allowed to discuss spiritual matters with a disfellowshipped family member or be included in Jehovah’s Witness events. This type of shunning isn’t nearly as severe, or effective, which, of course, may be why they recently began enforcing their true policy on shunning. Even so, realistically, the severity of the shunning depends on the individual situation and the people involved, as well as their cultures.
For instance, at at our Make Sure Ministries support group for ex-Jehovah’s Witness in South Florida, I recently learned that Latino cultures are not likely to completely shun their disfellowshipped family members, because family unity in their culture is revered. On the other hand, I know Jehovah’s Witnesses who are simply appearing to shun but don’t fully believe and follow the organization on the shunning issue (and other issues as well). By comparison, I have a biological brother who is a great shunner and seems to like the doctrine because he feels superior when he shuns others. He has shunned me for 40 years and was shunning his oldest son when that son was tragically killed.
Regardless of the severity, this practice of shunning creates plenty of hurt to go around, and Satan relishes our suffering. The more a person is shunned, the more that person shuns those shunning them. It can become an endless cycle. We who are shunned can encourage this suffering by doing nothing and playing the victim, or we can act to try and put an end to this destructive practice in our own lives. It is frightening to think about engaging in this practice, because we all fear rejection and judgment. But to overcome the work of the devil, which shunning most certainly is, someone must take the first step. We who are shunned know it won’t be the Jehovah’s Witnesses who will take the first step toward reconciliation.
I can’t say that all who are shunned can overcome all our family members who shut us out, but we will never know who will or who won’t agree to see us unless we try. I can say it only takes one person, on either side, to try and stop this unloving practice in their life by dialing a phone or knocking on a door, repeatedly if necessary.
We can be like the persistent widow who kept coming to the “judge in a certain city” with the plea, “‘Grant me justice in this dispute with my enemy.'” After ignoring her for a while, he finally proclaimed “‘…because this woman is driving me crazy…I am going to see that she gets justice, because she is wearing me out with her constant requests!’” (Luke 18:3-5 NLT). Be persistent. Who knows? You may have a breakthrough.
I have recently been trying to gather the courage to visit my Jehovah’s Witness mom and sisters; it is not easy, and I keep putting it off. My mom is in her mid-80s, and I fear time is running out for me to do so. My fear both to go and not to go is great, and, so far, it holds me back. But if I put my trust in God, then why should I fear them? It is God’s rejection I should fear, and His wrath, not theirs. (Luke 12:4-5)
God has put it in my heart to visit them and share the good news of Jesus Christ. If I don’t obey because of fear, I am jeopardizing the closeness of my relationship with Him. Even though I know that they will not reach out to me, and that they may reject me completely, that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t reach out to them and keep reaching out to them for as long and as many times as it takes.
I know that my Jehovah’s Witness family purposely shun me, but I shun them also, out of hurt and rejection, along with the dislike of their judgment and condemnation. So, for me, it isn’t just the active Jehovah’s Witness in my life who keeps this practice alive, it is me, too, who is a new creature in Christ. Other ex-Jehovah’s Witness family have expressed this same thing to me. In my family, the shunning door swings both ways. Does it swing both ways in your family too?
Because I’ve experienced shunning from multiple sides, such as in my own family and in the congregation, and as the shunner and the one being shunned, I have the advantage of understanding multiple sides of this issue; and it can be so for you, too. This understanding can lead us to empathy, which can lead us to forgiveness, which can lead us to peace about this evil practice, and maybe even inspire us to act to correct this wrong.
I’ll let you know how it goes with my family. Let’s all pray about this seemingly endless cycle and ask the Lord’s wisdom, mercy, and grace.