reprinted from the Bethel Ministries Newsletter of Jan-Feb 1987
Shun Your Own Family
by Joe and Helen Ortega and Randy Watters
"Simon says" is a game normally played by children; a kind of follow the leader. Sometimes, however, it is played by adults, with serious consequences. This article is about such consequences, as observed among Jehovah's Witnesses.
It was not too long ago that this Newsletter ran two articles on disfellowshiping, so I apologize for any redundancy. Perhaps after reading the letters written to us in this issue, you will understand why there is a need for another article. There are some days I cannot hold back the tears when I read these letters and see the pain and suffering that so many are experiencing upon leaving the Watchtower.
As we know, the Jehovah's Witness families of such ones are encouraged to treat them worse than a stranger. The outcast is to be shunned without an acknowledgment of their existence and the treatment is to be devoid of human courtesy and compassion. To those not familiar with the Watchtower organization, such treatment is shocking. Indeed, it is a far cry from the description Jesus gave on how to recognize his disciples. He said we would know them by their love (1 John 13:35).
The following is an example of the treatment given to a man who resigned from the Watchtower Society when he realized they were not "the truth." His wife divorced him when he left the WT. She is still a Witness. He had a severe automobile accident and spent weeks in the hospital from extensive head injuries. He writes:
My ex-wife never once let the children call to see how I was or even send me a card. Not one Jehovah's Witness ever came by or wrote a note to see how I was. However, I was blessed to have some good Christian friends call me and come by the hospital.
Another letter is from a lady who was never a Jehovah's Witness. Her daughter became a Witness. The lady's "crime" was being a Christian and attending a Christian church. She writes these heartbreaking words: "She has stopped coming to see me and she will not bring my grandchildren either. Please tell me what I can do?"
Still another letter states: "After I was disfellowshiped, my entire family would have nothing to do with me. I cannot see my daughter or her children. It has been 5 years."
A man in Florida writes: "I have four daughters and I haven't seen them in three years. They are Jehovah's Witnesses." A young woman from Chicago wrote recently:
It is hard for my children to understand why they cannot go to their grandmother's funeral. She died a Jehovah's Witness and the entire family are Witnesses. They were asked not to come because I was disfellowshiped. They really don't understand.
Why does this so-called Bible-believing organization have such unscriptural and heartless rules that break up family ties? Let's re-examine their explanations from various Watchtower magazines. As far back as 1963 they said,
[Disfellowshiping] serves as a powerful warning example to those in the congregation, since they will be able to see the disastrous consequences of ignoring Jehovah's laws. Paul said: "Reprove before all onlookers persons who practice sin, that the rest also may have fear."1 Tim. 5:20. (WT 7/1/63, p.411)
While disfellowshiping for unrepentant gross sins is proper (1 Cor. 5:13), the WT cuts off anyone who disagrees in the slightest with Watchtower policy or teaching; one of the many reasons they are recognized as a cult. To be disfellowshiped by the elders of the Watchtower (even over minor doctrinal issues) means being totally shunned by God as well:
It is a great tragedy for one to be disfellowshiped. For this means a cutting off from Jehovah and his favor. The disfellowshiping action taken by the congregation is merely the confirmation of what has already taken place in the heavens. These visible agents of God [the elders] merely acknowledge what Jehovah has already done in heaven. (emphasis added)
A disfellowshiped person is cut off from the congregation, and the congregation has nothing to do with him. Those in the congregation will not extend the hand of fellowship to this one, nor will they so much as say "Hello" or "Goodbye" to him. (ibid., p.411,412)
[The members of the congregation] will not converse with such one or show him recognition in any way. If the disfellowshiped person attempts to talk to others in the congregation, they should walk away from him. In this way he will feel the full import of his sin. . . . the disfellowshiped person who wants to do what is right should inform any approaching him in innocence that he is disfellowshiped and they should not be conversing with him. (ibid., p.413; emphasis added)
What about blood ties? The July 15, 1963 Watchtower (p. 443) goes into this question in detail. They consider the family who does not live under the same roof as well as the family who lives together. They insist if he does not live under the same roof, the only contact with him would be when absolutely necessary. Let's look at their words. Under the title, "Family Responsibility in Keeping Jehovah's Worship Pure" they refer to the relative not living in the home:
What if a person cut off from God's congregation unexpectedly visits dedicated relatives? What should the Christian do then? If this is the first occurrence of such visit, the dedicated Christian can, if his conscience permits, carry on family courtesies on that particular occasion. However, if his conscience does not permit, he is under no obligation to do so. If courtesies are extended, though, the Christian should make it clear that this will not be made a regular practice. . . . The excommunicated relative should be made to realize that his visits are not now welcomed as they were previously when he was walking correctly with Jehovah. (WT 7/15/63, p.443,444)
The Watchtower follows up with how to treat the disfellowshiped mate who is living under the same roof:
If the excommunicated husband insists on offering prayer at mealtimes, the dedicated members of the household would not say "Amen" to the prayer, nor would they join hands as some have the custom, as this would be participating spiritually. They could bow their heads and offer their own silent prayer to Jehovah. (ibid., p.446)
But wait! "New light" from Jehovah? Ten years later it seemed that God changed his attitude and rules regarding the cutoff ones and decided to show love and mercy to them. Note the August 1, 1974 Watchtower (p. 467) under the heading, "Maintaining a Balanced View Toward the Disfellowshiped One":
Congregation 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 towards 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. (WT 8/1/74, p.467)
. . . not "mixing in company" with a person, or treating such one as "a man of the nations," does not prevent us from being decent, courteous, considerate and humane. (ibid., p.468)
Yet, even during this time of liberality, shunning (in the form of holding back one's affection) was practiced:
. . . How, then, can parents carry out the injunction to discipline their children in harmony with God's Word when one of their children is disfellowshiped? They can still use God's Word or other publications that discuss the Bible in training the son or daughter, but they use these in a corrective manner, not as though having a spiritual `good time' with such a one in the way they could with the other children. How this is handled is for the parents to decide. This does not call for unkindness, but they do not accord such disfellowshiped son or daughter the same approved spiritual relationship granted the others. (ibid., p.470; emphasis added)
One can only imagine how this "special treatment" affected such unfortunate children.
Reading the statements about being "courteous and humane" sounds as if God changed his mind and felt pity and compassion for the erring ones. Sadly, this was not the case. Jehovah, according to the Watchtower Society, went back to the "old light" as "new light." Once again the unloving, unfeeling hatred for those cutoff ones was brought back. The Jan. 1, 1983 Watchtower accused any who may be disfellowshiped (for whatever reason) of having a "truly bad heart" or pursuing a course of wickedness:
It is to illustrate that if someone is disfellowshiped, he must at the time have had a truly bad heart and/or been determined to pursue a God-dishonoring course. Peter said that the condition of such a person is worse than before he became a Christian; he is like "a sow that was bathed but has gone back to rolling in the mire." (p.30)
The Watchtower did reluctantly acknowledge that people are human. They continued:
But human emotions and attachments can have a powerful effect, making it difficult for people to act in accord with the disfellowshiping decree if a relative is involved. (ibid., p.31)
The attack continues with the example of a couple, one of which is disfellowshiped. When other Witnesses come to visit the couple, they must exercise caution, for
. . . the expelled mate has proved that he is not the sort of person that we want to be around. . . So maybe a visit can be made when the disfellowshiped one is known to be out of the house. (ibid., p.31)
While Jehovah's Witnesses would have you believe that those who are disfellowshiped are gross sinners who were rightfully disfellowshiped according to the Bible (1 Cor. 5:13; 2 John 9-11), the truth of the matter is, many of those disfellowshiped simply disagreed with some particular teaching of the organization. Raymond Franz, former member of the Watchtower's Governing Body in New York, writes:
I know many persons who clearly evidence [a] concern [for truth], yet who are labeled as "apostates," "antichrists," "instruments of Satan." In case after case after case, the sole basis for such condemnation is that they could not honestly agree with all the organization's teaching or policies. (Crisis of Conscience, Atlanta: Commentary Press, 1983, p. 32)
Franz describes disfellowshiping thusly:
What must it mean to a mother, who has seen a baby daughter come forth from her own body, has nursed that baby, cared for it through illness, has trained the young girl through the formative years of life, living her problems with her, feeling her disappointments and sadnesses as if they were her own, shedding tears along with her tears - what must it mean to that mother to have her daughter, now an adult, suddenly reject her and do so simply because her mother sought to be true to her conscience and to God?
What must it do to a father or mother to see a son or daughter marry and be told, for the same reason, that `it would be best if they did not appear at the wedding,' or know that a daughter has given birth to a child and be told that they should not come to see their grandchild?
This is not imagination. Exactly those things are happening to many parents who have been associated with Jehovah's Witnesses. (ibid., p.33)
Witnesses are currently instructed not to speak to anyone who may leave the organization, and are to avoid them like the plague. Those who have seen this attitude in practice could add that JWs usually avoid even making eye contact with such persons, and might even move out of the neighborhood. This has happened in some cases. It is all part of the attitude that they must "punish" those that leave, and this punishment is almost always of a psychological nature.
Evil motives or wicked sins are automatically attributed to those who wish to disassociate. Notice the way the Watchtower automatically implies they are "wrongdoers":
Or, as mentioned in John 6:66, occasionally a Witness on his own initiative will decide to leave the way of truth. He may even make known his decision after the committee begins to look into his wrongdoing. . . . Then it will no longer be necessary for the elders to continue their investigation. (WT 7/1/84, p. 31; emphasis added)
The implication is that he is a "wrongdoer"; either because he is leaving, or more likely, because he is involved in some kind of sin.
The December 15, 1984 WT added this barb in an effort to prevent Witnesses from learning too much:
We have been forewarned that there will be apostates and people who just like to have their ears tickled. Counsel such as at 2 John 9-11, 1 Corinthians 5:11-13 and 2 Timothy 3:5 allows no room for associating with those who turn away from the truth. Nor do we purchase or read their writings. (p. 19)
It became obvious that too many were still questioning the Watchtower, reading literature that exposed their past, or were talking to disfellowshiped relatives. So in the July 15, 1985 WT, the Governing Body applied the injunction in 2 John 10 (against antichrists) to those that disassociate themselves. No mention at all is made of the context of this passage (verse 7 tells us that these ones deny Christ as come in the flesh). Nevertheless, the penalty meant for true apostate teachers is now applied to ANYONE disassociating himself. The article is not specific as to whether this total shunning is to be carried out with relatives living in one's own home or not. Quoting from their AID book in reference to "apostates," they say,
Such ones willfully abandoning the Christian congregation thereby become part of the "antichrist." (1 John 2:18,19)
A person who had willfully and formally disassociated himself from the congregation would have matched that description.(p. 31)
What Will "Simon" Say Next?
With many court cases now in progress in various parts of the United States and Canada, it is hard to say exactly what will happen in the next couple of years. Most likely, the WT will continue to enforce a hard line against any communication with disfellowshiped friends or relatives. The reason is simple: The Witness will be asked to examine the history and cover-ups of the Watchtower organization, so as to reconsider their allegiance to the New York-based organization. Since an objective examination of the Watchtower organization virtually always leads to the Witness leaving, the Governing Body wants to prevent this at all costs. To lose their followers is to lose their power. If "Simon said" then, who would jump?
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