Shunning:

”A Part of the Faith of Jehovah’s Witnesses”
(Watchtower 4/15/88, p. 29)

by Gary Busselman

shun - to keep away from; avoid scrupulously or consistently.
(Webster’s New World Dictionary)
- to keep clear of; avoid. (Funk and Wagnalls Standard Desk Dictionary)

Why It Works
Why would I be afraid of someone who threatened not to talk to me unless I behaved a certain way? Why would I punish someone by not talking to them? Why would people try and try to gain the acceptance of a group who would look right through them without speaking or even acknowledge them when they chance met? What are the rewards for the shunners? What are the rewards for the shunned?

As a former Jehovah’s Witness, I have shunned and been shunned. I believe many, maybe most, people when exposed to shunning are not attracted to or by it. When I explain the disfellowshipping doctrine to people who are not familiar with Jehovah’s Witnesses practice of shunning they stare at me in disbelief.

When I was a practicing Jehovah’s Witness I remember once a disfellowshipped woman with small children had attended a Thursday night JW group meeting that ended about 9:45 PM. She was required to sit in the back and she could not speak to or be spoken to by anyone there. When we left the meeting this disfellowshipped woman was still there after 10:00 PM deep in a residential neighborhood with small children and a broken down car. We all did our duty to the Watchtower and shunned her. We did not offer to help her. I never saw her again.

Why the threat of shunning helped to keep me “in line” is clearer to me today. I believe that very night we “freed” the woman with the broken car, but we further enslaved ourselves to the Watchtower. For two reasons:

(1) We reinforced each other by participating in a crime. In order for me to accept my own (truly un-Christian) behavior I had to approve, reinforce, accept, and condone the behavior of all the other members of the group. Shunning gave me the illusion of power. The illusion of power to a powerless person is a drug.

(2) The group members modeled for me what they were willing to do in keeping the commands of the WT. For a moment I put myself in that woman’s place, and I knew I didn’t want to be there. Raised by Witness parents and indoctrinated by the WT since age seven, all my real security was tied up with a Watchtower ribbon. The thought of leaving the group was unthinkable. Regularly scheduled portions of JW group meetings were discussions on disfellowshipping, shunning, and the consequences of leaving “Jehovah’s Organization.”

Shunning means those whom we used to call brothers and sisters we would now pass in the market or street without acknowledging. When I practiced shunning while in the company of another Witness the act of shunning would, in my own eyes, be a witnessed proof of my loyalty to Jehovah. I was on spiritual high ground (a sort of religious “high”). While alone I was less bold when a shunning opportunity would arise, but if I thought that there may be even a chance that another JW might be watching I would “play the part” all the way. If it was a private situation, however, I might feel somewhat uncomfortable and maybe even make eye contact and nod.

Shunning as Spiritual Abuse
Recently, during a conversation with another former JW, the subject of abuse came up. The question was asked, “Is there any context of involvement with Jehovah’s Witnesses that is not direct abuse, indirect abuse, or a set up for abuse?” We batted this around for a couple of hours and concluded that in every situation we could come up with involving JWs there is a real or potential victim. Conclusion: Any contact with a JW or the “mother” organization (the Watchtower) is abuse in the name of God, i.e. spiritual abuse.

Real or threatened, physical, mental, emotional, and verbal abuse is their power over members and often former members. Fear, guilt, shame, hatred, and later resentment and anger kept me with them selling Watchtowers on dirty street corners next to the bums, and from house to house.

Shunning is probably the ultimate rejection of me as a person and maybe the cruelest mental, emotional, and psychological form of abuse. The results of the shunning by Jehovah’s Witnesses done to me was substantial pain and suffering … but only as long as lowed it to continue.

Shunning is a Drug...
...and drug users need enablers. I've noticed a few things about abusers of people and things. A person who abuses other humans does it for a reason. It is the same as any addiction to a substance or behavior. The addict gets something out of it, a "reward." I have done research on the subject of addiction and have reached some interesting conclusions.

Addicts need a drug , abusers need a victim. Shunners are playing a mind game and they need a playmate who will follow the rules. Shunning is their drug. Abusers need help to carry out their abuse. They need enablers (victims). Without their victims they can not continue to abuse. Watchtower rules for shunning must be followed by both shunner and VICTIM or shunning doesn't work! Shunning is a show. To best work it needs an arena to be played in, and an audience.

Recognizing My Responsibility
I have a duty to myself, who I love, and to my many loved ones and real friends to protect myself and them from abuse and abusers.
We are obligated to protect ourselves, even from parents. There is a limit on the extent to which we honor or obey them. To honor means to provide food, clothing, and shelter to them if asked, to avoid reprimands, be civil in conversation, and accommodate parents in requests made. To honor parents does not mean to make myself a target for their abuse of any kind. Emotional abuse hurts just as bad as physical abuse even though the scars are not on the outside.

Shunning is one of the WT's main reinforcers. When JWs shun me, and I allow it, thereby showing respect for their rules, I only reinforce their bad behavior and give them permission to do it again next time. In effect, I am telling him (and myself) that I am deserving of that kind of treatment.

Partial shunning is also practiced by JWs. Married couples (one practicing Witness, one disfellowshipped /disassociated) are taught to practice shunning in the home. This practice is unacceptable by me and is clearly intended to split up families. How can JWs believe they are keeping all of the marriage vows while requiring one spouse to spiritually shun the other? How can one reduce a marriage to sex and business? How can a couple be happy just talking about the garden, weather and sports at ten?

Here is a thought I had one day. I need to look at the beliefs taught me (past and current, especially the ones used to indoctrinate me, since these probably make up my core beliefs) and view them as principles that I will either keep to run my life by, or as garbage, to be thrown out with the rest of the trash. I find the principles in the teachings. I write them on paper, one by one, then I test them, first by themselves, then by each other. In my case I tested them by the Watchtower's own standards, then to my personal standards, being careful to keep the two separate. I needed to do this until all, I mean ALL, of my beliefs are mine and I can clearly give my own reasons for accepting the theory. If I reject a concept, I also need to be able to intelligently explain why. On most issues I have had to read two books, one pro, the other con. If I can't debate both sides of an issue then I know I don't understand the issue. Dogmatism and forced uniformity only have one side.

I have a duty to myself to test and establish my own principles, that I can live with, then be true and loyal to those principles or change them. The only things in my life that are black and white are newspapers and old movies. As a Watchtower-liberated free-thinker, I am continually learning and forming new opinions on my own, and it feels good. On many subjects my opinion is "I don't know." On a few others it's "I don't care."

To let an abuser suffer the consequences for his behavior does not mean that we need to be abusive to them. I do think it means that I take a firm stand and let them know what my stand is. Watchtower doctrinal flip-flops bother me and my former JW friends who find me acceptable to them only when the issue is money tend to bore me. I do not think a puppet following the latest Watchtower policy is acceptable to me, even if I happen to like the new policy.

Loyalty and Love Confused
When getting someone out of the Watchtower organization becomes my life focus and an obsession I have found I can't be useful to myself or anyone else. When I rebuke the abusers and put them out of the picture I find I can now be free to help others who have been victimized by these people. The JWs who practice shunning me kept inserting themselves in my life then taking shots at me as long as I let them. I have never been directly hurt by the group leaders, but always by my own acquaintances and relatives, and always because I made myself available to them. Allowing myself to be victimized was a powerless situation and I needed some power. Defining my boundaries to Jehovah's Witnesses and rebuking them has been incredibly empowering.

If my happiness is contingent on a special person leaving the Watchtower organization then I have put a pretty cheap price on my happiness. If I have to wait to have a good life until other people, places, or things change then I'm no better off than the members of the Watchtower and I could just as well be back under the "official" control and influence of the group.

 For a period of time after leaving the Watchtower I was still loyal to the leaders and the local members. However, once I tested their doctrines with reliable sources and really looked at their older publications, I was freed both mentally and spiritually.

Remember too, I, as a former member, can talk to anybody. I can certainly talk to them. The current members are the ones being punished. THEY are the ones who can’t talk to me, or read anything critical of the WT, or even read a book written by a former member, by order of their leaders.

One Jehovah’s Witness I know has a daughter and a son. Both were raised as Witnesses. The daughter was baptized by the Witnesses. The son was not. As adolescents both the daughter and the son started to use tobacco. The daughter, because she was baptized, was disfellowshipped for using tobacco. She moved away, married, had a child, quit going to meetings, and continued to use tobacco. The father has not spoken to her or seen her for  years. The father has not spoken to or seen his granddaughter, ever.

The son also quit attending JW group meetings, moved away, got married, had two children, and also continued to use tobacco. But the son, because he was not baptized, was not disfellowshipped. The father has an ongoing relationship with his son and these two grandchildren even though the son continues to use tobacco.

If the father is shunning the behavior (tobacco use), then he would have to shun them both. Since he continues a relationship with the son I’m inclined to think that the unforgivable sin is baptism by Jehovah’s Witnesses!


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