In Defense of Shunning
July 09, 2007
When my pal Keith, became interested in Jehovah's Witnesses, he thought he'd test them out. So he thought up a series of questions and posed them to someone in the local congregation. Why does God permit this, what is He going to do about that, what happens at such-and-such, why do you say this is true and that is not true? Those kinds of questions.
Noting the answers, he went across town to another congregation, and posed the same questions. He got the same answers. He traveled cross-state a few weeks later to visit family. Again, the same questions and the same answers. He came away satisfied that Jehovah's Witnesses really are united in beliefs.....it wasn't just talk. In fact, he could have gone anywhere in the world, and discovered the same. Over the years, he has.
"Big deal!" says Tom Barfendogs, not a bit impressed. Of course Witnesses are all in agreement! They disfellowship (shun) anyone who disagrees! Barfendongs runs one of those web sitesthat scours the globe for bad JW reports. If one of our people so much as farts, there's the link on his site. There's a lot of us: 7 to 17 million, depending upon how you count, so he never lacks for links.
But it's a cheap shot he takes on unity "coercion." Sure, a surgeon has the option of cutting out cancerous cells. Is that the reason the other cells behave?
Still, it's no fun being disfellowshipped, and Barfendogs would have you believe it can happen at the drop of a pin. Just disagree, that's all you have to do, he says. Almost like that scene from the Gulag Archipelago, in which the party boss makes a speech and gets nonstop applause. On and on it goes. People's hands start turning to mush. Nobody dares be the first one to stop clapping! Bigwigs are watching.
Yet, in fact, it's rather hard to get disfellowshipped on such grounds. You have to take deliberate steps. It doesn't happen by accident. Persistently and publicly challenging the governing agencies of the Christian congregation will do it, and few go so far. (Though the ones that do, accumulate. If you gather them all together, there's a lot of them.) A person can just fade if they're determined to leave. Barfendogs makes it sound as if elders are determined to catch and punish such persons, but that's not the case at all. Disfellowshipping only exists to separate an intractable, opposed person (or one who willfully and persistently violates moral tenets of the faith, but that is not under discussion here) from the congregation. If such a person does it on his/her own accord, the measure is not necessary, and no one spends times pursuing it. Yes, you may be able to hunt around and find an exception, but in general, the principle holds.
If you're riding on the bus and you don't like where the bus is going, you can get off. Or you can stay on, figuring the driver must know the way. You can scratch your head at the strange scenery...where are we now, anyway?....discuss it with your neighbor, even ask the driver. You don't get tossed off the bus for these things. But if you grab the wheel! yes, that will do it. Or create such a ruckus that throws the bus into turmoil. That too, may land you an invitation to leave and find your own way.
Not all of Jehovah's Witnesses today are 100% behind the program. Many are puzzled over this or that aspect of theocracy and may entertain their own pet ideas of how more of this, less of that, modification of this tactic, and so forth, would be beneficial. Some make suggestions via letter or traveling overseers. There's nothing new, earthshaking, or unnatural about that. There's always been those with both suggestions and doubts, now and in the first century. [Also, continue showing mercy to some that have doubts......Jude 22] In the final analysis, though, we realize that the burden of directing things does not rest with us, but with a non-democratic channel which God has provided. We're not presumptuous. We cooperate as best we can. Both the idea of a central governing agency and the ejection of those who oppose are firmly rooted in scripture, so we play along with it.
The big picture regarding disfellowshipping surely must include the following:
Jehovah's Witnesses enjoy an unparalleled brotherhood and spiritual atmosphere. If I KNOW that someone is a fellow Witness, I can leave my wallet with that person. And my keys. And if need be, my family. I need not know the person. They can be anywhere in the world. Race, nationality, social & economic standing means nothing to Jehovah's Witnesses, though they effectively divide most people. If war breaks out between respective nations, it has no effect on how resident JWs view ones from the other nation. Same thing for genocides.
This sort of unity makes people suspect if they haven't been there. Isn't it brainwashing? Isn't it Landru? It is neither. The Bible’s analogy is that of the human body, whose members could not be more unlike, yet are able to cooperate seamlessly for the good of the whole body. So it is with Jehovah's Witnesses today. They could not be more unlike in personalities, backgrounds and talents (besides the factors already mentioned) yet they enjoy unshakable unity. God's spirit makes it possible.
We're zealous to safeguard this unity. When a person leaves JW tenets, he begins to lose the thinking that makes such unity possible. Some lose it instantly. More often, it happens over time. But it does happen. This is a significant reason for disfellowshipping, which, as mentioned, a person can usually avoid by “fading.”
Is this to say that there are no decent people among other groups of people, either religious or non-religious? Of course not. People of integrity can be found everywhere. But are there groups where mere membership in that group virtually guarantees such integrity? No. You might come up with one or two arguable exceptions, but in general, no.
There is a price for such unity. I don't think its overly steep, but it does exist. It is the willingness to yield to authority, the willingness to not put our own personal freedoms above all else, the willingness to cooperate and not insist on our own view. These days Western nations have proved totally incapable of this. It probably accounts, in large measure, for the fact that Eastern countries, India, even parts of South America, are running rings around the West growth wise. They have not lost the ability to respect authority (granted, sometimes with little choice) and cooperate, whereas all we can do is bitch and whine and sue each other.
Ah! Here is a last minute news item from today's paper that reinforces the paragraph above:
Labor Secretary Elaine Chao just made some unflattering observations on American workers (and got accused of racism for her frankness). "They need anger-management and conflict resolution skills, and they have to be able to accept direction. Too many young people bristle when a supervisor asks them to do something."
Pschologist Jean Twenge chimes in that today's young people are all about "focus on the self and doing what's right for you rather than following social rules or rules of the society."
That sort of says it all, doesn't it?
For men will be lovers of themselves.....self-assuming, haughty....not open to any agreement....headstrong, puffed up [with pride], lovers of pleasures 2 Tim 3:2-4
Thanks for your writing, Tom. You caused me to pause and think about some of the attitudes and opinions that I have picked up the last few years.
Posted by: Screech | July 10, 2007 at 01:03 PM
One of the few things I had heard about the Jehovah’s Witnesses that really did concern me was the practice of shunning. It seemed mean, especially if someone was being shunned on account of loyalty to there own conscience over some manner. The disfellowship rate also seemed kind of high, then I looked at my own Church’s records and found that our excommunication/resignation rate is about the same as the Jehovah’s Witnesses. The LDS Church has had some semi-major incidents involving the ex-communicating/resignation of members. For most among these was the September 1993 excommunications or disfellowshipment (these two terms have a differing statues in LDS parlance, with disfellowshipment being the less severe of the pair) of six major Mormon intellectuals and writers, (five on the left, and one on the right politically). Notable as well was the resignation of George P. Lee, the highest ranking American Indian in the Church, also during the early 90’s. I have not heard of similar things occurring with the body of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, at lest not of the sort that has attracted much media attention. The only such incident I can think of, is didn’t a member of the governing board leave the fellowship and turn against in the JW’s, oh in say the last decade or so. If so, I’d be curious what happened there.
Posted by: NateDredge | July 10, 2007 at 04:47 PM
Posted by: Apologian | July 10, 2007 at 07:55 PM
He did. Ray Franz in 1980. I don't hear much about him anymore. Though he did write a book about his JW days, not flattering.
Posted by: tomsheepandgoats | July 10, 2007 at 10:58 PM
Tom, have you read Ray Franz's book? It was updated recently with some very significant additions. I'd be curious to know your thoughts on it.
Posted by: Mike.e | July 13, 2007 at 04:45 AM
Mike.e, I have not read it. I will post about my reasons soon.
Posted by: tomsheepandgoats | July 13, 2007 at 01:53 PM
When Jehovah's Witnesses knock on people's doors they want them to be 'open-minded' and listen. JW's on the other hand, are forbidden to read, listen or discuss anything that is not expressly approved by the Brooklyn. Even this blog goes against Governing Body very clear instructions.
Posted by: Aldo | August 02, 2007 at 11:01 AM
Neither is it "forbidden" nor are there "clear instructions". To be sure, there is encouragement to be selective in entertainment and reading material, as with internet use. But where this "forbidden" silliness comes from I don't know.
Posted by: tom sheepandgoats | August 03, 2007 at 02:50 PM