“Should He Be Disfellowshipped?”

Come now. You know that this [“shunning” or “avoiding”] has already happened, unless he has been secretive as to his activities and intent. Social media is full of complaints of those saying that they have been “shunned” though no DFing has ever occurred—it is but their separation and subsequent activities that congregation members react to. Nobody tells them what to do. They tell themselves, based on their understanding of Bible principles, what to do.

That is why it would have been better had he remained part of the congregation throughout. Relations would have become tense, probably, but that is always the case with someone who presents himself as a ‘reformer’ or ‘whistleblower.’ Instead, he separates and aligns himself with a community that continually derides JWs as a “cult”—a perception that none of them will share—so they are unlikely to conclude that he has anything in mind other than sinking them, using an unsavory subject as a wedge, since many of that community have expressly stated that is their goal.

“Do you feel that what Mark has done merits a judicial committee and DF'ing?” From afar, one does not weigh in on this, with only a tiny percentage of the facts available. It is irresponsible to ask, just as it is irresponsible to try to get people to weigh in pre-trial on O.J, Michael Jackson, Paul Manifort, or anyone else. How would I know?

JWs are not a “cult”—the whole concept is silly, and the incendiary word has been expanded to include them only in the last 20-30 years or so. They are a faith that meaningfully applies scripture IN THEIR OWN LIVES ONLY, even as they recommend it to others—a point continually misrepresented by “anti-cultists.”

Is it only your community that complains of being “manipulated?” JWs are a community of believers who wish to avoid being “manipulated” by overall societal trends, and for this reason they have voluntarily signed on to tools, up to and including DFing, that facilitates this end. The reason we look at 30-year-old photos of ourselves and wonder how we ever imagined those dorky styles did anything for us reveals a basic law of human nature. Would that that principle applied only to small things like style. But It doesn’t. Humans run with the herd on matters small and big. To deny a faith the tools to self-control is no more than an attack on the free expression of one’s faith.

Since the Watchtower organization has stated that they do not tell family members to shun others in the family, there is no reason not to take them up on this. Family members will shun or not shun based upon whether they think there is any reason general policy on avoiding those who oppose should not apply simply because one is family. (“Shunning,” by the way, is not the best term, since it implies permanence. Disfellowshipping does not.)

If Mark’s work is no more than an extension of what has been plainly stated—that anyone who knows of CSA in the JW congregation has every right to go to authorities and doing so brings no reproach upon anyone other than the perpetrator, then he has nothing to be concerned about. https://www.tomsheepandgoats.com/2019/02/the-reproach-of-child-sexual-abuse-falls-on-the-abu.html.  I don’t even accede to your conclusion as to why the two congregation elders call. It could be that way, but you have by no means demonstrated it.

From Chivchalov’s blog, in Russia, since all ties together:

“Few people know that back in 2010, the European Court of Human Rights considered all the most popular accusations against Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia: breaking families, stealing real estate, failure to perform civil duties, refusal of military service, risk to health due to bloodless treatment, and even "mind control". Russian anti-cultists badly wanted to prove these allegations. The result: each of them was found to be unfounded and unsubstantiated. Here are some details in Russian: http://chivchalov.blogspot.com/2012/02/blog-post_13.htmlBut the Russian media don't care about the courts, facts and evidence. Over the past 9 years, these accusations continue to be heavily exploited by the media and presented as widely known and accepted facts. What doesn't work in court rooms due to the lack of evidence, works perfectly in the media that know how to invent any evidence and present it at the right angle. By the way, the Russian authorities learned a lesson: now what they say on TV, they don't say in court. In the Supreme and other courts, all these accusations were no longer mentioned. There was only one new accusation: "extremism," which is understood as the belief in the truth of one's religion.”

Most things take more than a sound byte to answer, which is why I put my reply on this platform, rather than a long series of tweets that will get all mixed up & out of order. On “cult” accusations: https://www.tomsheepandgoats.com/2019/02/who-really-is-a-cult-part-1.html

On “shunning” accusations: https://www.tomsheepandgoats.com/2019/01/in-defense-of-shunning.html

On all other accusations, see the free ebook TrueTom vs the Apostates! 

I have reproduced your tweets below, Javi, along with my reply that preceded them:

“See, this is where you often lose me. If Mark is disfellowshipped, he will be more than "avoided". he will be shunned by his entire family and lifelong friends. Cut off from his entire social environment. Check out Kip William's research williams.socialpsychology.org (1/3)

The effects of ostracism are on par with physical pain as far as the human brain is concerned. Aside from that, as Mark alluded in the article. Speaking out has already come at much personal and financial cost. These men could just leave him be and NOBODY in their congregation (2/3)

would be affected. Mark could proceed with his work, retain a semblance of a relationship with his elderly kin. But, it appears they're insisting on the visits. I'd argue that they are the aggressors; Do you feel that what Mark has done merits a judicial committee and DF'ing?” (3/3)

My prior tweets:

If you say someone lied, usually you say what the lie was. Also, if he presents himself as whistleblower who cares about his PIMI friends and family, he could have attended all congregation meetings both before ....1/3

and after. Relationships would strain, to be sure, but at no time would he need be concerned about being accosted physically. That cannot be said of the two men he named publicly before an audience mostly hostile to what ....2/3

they stand for. For that reason, it is usually thought extraordinarily vindictive to name private persons on the internet.....3/3

 

.....And since Mark has tagged everyone under the sun, so will I.

 

 

 

Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the ebook ‘Dear Mr. Putin - Jehovah’s Witnesses Write Russia’ (free).... and in the West, with the ebook ‘TrueTom vs the Apostates!’ (free)

In Defense of Shunning

As the ultimate trump card of congregation discipline, to be applied when lesser measures have failed, is disfellowshipping cruel? It certainly could be, and increasingly is, argued that way. Undeniably it triggers pain to those who refuse to yield to it, “kicking against the goads,” as was said to Paul.  That said, suffice it to say that no group has been able maintain consistent moral principles through significant intervals of time without it. I vividly recall circuit ministers of my faith saying: “Fifty years ago, the difference between Jehovah’s Witnesses and people in general was doctrinal.” Conduct on moral matters, sexual or otherwise, was largely the same. Today the chasm is huge. Can internal discipline not be a factor?

The book Secular Faith - How Culture Has Trumped Religion in American Politics attempts to reassure its secular audience through examining the changing moral stands of churches on five key issues. The book points out that today’s church members have more in common with atheists than they do with members of their own denominations from decades past. Essentially, the reassurance to those who would mold societal views is: ‘Don’t worry about it. They will come around. They always do. It may take a bit longer, but it is inevitable.’ Jehovah’s Witnesses have thwarted this model by not coming around. Can internal discipline not be a factor?

In the case of Jehovah’s Witnesses, members voluntarily sign on to a program that reinforces goals they have chosen. Sometimes it is not enough to say that you want to diet. You must also padlock the fridge. It is not an infringement of freedom to those who have willingly signed aboard. They are always free to attempt their diet some place where they do not padlock the fridge. Experience shows, however, that not padlocking the fridge results in hefty people, for not everyone has extraordinary willpower.

If people want to padlock the fridge but they cannot do so because anti-cultists forbid that course, and they get hefty, how is that not a violation of their individual rights? It is all a difference of view over the basic nature of people and what makes them tick. It is the individualists of today who would hold that you can’t even padlock your own fridge. No. Full freedom of choice must always be in front of each one of us, they say, notwithstanding that history demonstrates we so easily toss with the waves in the absence of a firm anchor.

Christians are mandated to “imitate the Christ,” both individually and collectively. Given human imperfection, this can be done only with group-accepted tools of discipline to buttress good intensions. If anti-cultists would deny them these tools under the guise of protecting their individual rights, then what we are looking at is an attempt to throttle Christianity true to its roots and substitute rule by the popular crowd.

Disfellowshipping is unpleasant and some are so shocked to find themselves put out from their community of choice that they determine once and for all to mend whatever caused them to be ousted so as to regain entrance. But they do not all do that, and with the passing of time, the ones that do not accumulate. Some continue on in life with a “been there, done that” mentality. But others expend considerable energy in settling the score with the organization that ousted them. One businessman in Canada even sued at being disfellowshipped—his customer base consisted mostly of Jehovah’s Witnesses and most of them took their business elsewhere. A lower court agreed with him that those running his religion had “told” parishioners not to associate with the ex-member. But the Supreme Court ultimately decided that to rule on who had to associate with who, based on biblical interpretation, was beyond their legal purview.

In some cases, disfellowshipped ones later frame their ousting as though it were over mere matters of disagreement. It was not their conduct that caused the trouble, they maintain, but it was simply disagreement over something, for example, the contention that leaving a spouse for another should trigger congregation sanctions. This was true of a prosecution witness at the Russian Supreme Court trial which resulted in the banning of the Jehovah’s Witness faith. Responding to a request from the judge to cite instances of “control,” [she] “reported that an example was her expulsion from the congregations after she ‘began her close, but not officially registered, relations with a man.’”

Other times it truly is over matters of disagreement with regard to interpretation or policy, and opposers try to frame things as in the song—that with Jehovah’s Witnesses, it is “step out of line, the men come and take you away.” Some of them become so convinced of their new-found enlightenment that they envision themselves liberators—hurl down the Watchtower walls and the captives within will come running to embrace them! Alas for them—were whatever they think of as walls to disappear, with barely a jiggle as to those “inside,” they would have to rethink their silly premise. To revisit an earlier illustration, they are determined to sneak goodies into the fridge and cannot believe that they would not be permitted to—it can only be because tyrants from on high are telling the fridge owner what can and cannot be stocked, they mutter.

Some of them came across some new insight, perhaps, that they thought would entitle them to drive the bus. They left when they discovered that they would not be allowed grab the wheel. In some cases, they were caught red-handed trying to hotwire the bus. The “bus,” of course, is the Witness organization itself. In the end it is a too high opinion of oneself and one’s importance that sinks one. The worship and deeds of Jehovah’s Witnesses are magnified by their organized quality, and they either appeal to the heart or they don’t. If they don’t, then one magnifies disproportionately matters of individual rights.

The spirit of the times today far elevates rights over responsibilities. There is a Bill of Rights appended to the United States Constitution. Would that there was a Bill of Responsibilities to go along with it. With Jehovah’s Witnesses, as with many religious people, it is the responsibilities that loom largest. Among the responsibilities Christians feel are those toward their spiritual kin. “Slave” for one another, the verse says, and many translations soften “slave” to “serve,” but the root word at Galatians 5:13 undeniably indicates “slave” as the correct choice. Even before that, however, there is a responsibility toward God. The Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses dares not meddle with the disfellowshipping policy overmuch because they know it serves to keep the congregation “clean” so as to present to God what he insists upon: “a [clean] people for his name.” (Acts 15:14)

A book by evangelical author Ronald J. Sider, The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience, highlights on the cover the question: ‘Why are Christians Living Just Like the Rest of the World?’ The author cites verse after verse of how Christian standards are “higher” than those of the greater world, and then example after example of how they are not with those claiming Christianity today. He concludes that it is largely a matter of church discipline. “Church discipline used to be a significant, accepted part of most evangelical traditions, whether Reformed, Methodist, Baptist, or Anabaptist,” he writes. “In the second half of the twentieth century, however, it has largely disappeared.” He goes on to quote Haddon Robinson on the current church climate, a climate he calls consumerism:

“Too often now when people join a church, they do so as consumers. If they like the product, they stay. If they do not, they leave. They can no more imagine a church disciplining them than they could a store that sells goods disciplining them. It is not the place of the seller to discipline the consumer. In our churches, we have a consumer mentality.”

Christians have a mandate to follow the Christ as best they can in speech and conduct. Consumerism makes that mandate effectively impossible. Yet it is the only model that today’s anti-cultists will permit. Anything veering toward discipline they paint as an intolerable affront to human rights. We must not be naïve. Theirs is no more than an attempt to stamp out biblical Christianity, veiled as though they are the very protectors of humanity.

The notion of protecting one’s values, through disciplinary action if need be, extends beyond Christianity. Was Tevye a cult member, he of the film Fiddler on a Roof? If so, no one has breathed a word of it until very recently. The third daughter of his Russian Jewish family was shunned for marrying outside of the faith. It is an action that would not trigger shunning in the Jehovah’s Witness community, though it would gain no praises. After all, if God is truly one’s best friend, ought one really make one’s second-best friend a person who is indifferent, perhaps even opposed, to the first? Only the atheistic anti-cultists will be blind to the logic of this, and that only because they would consider any god-concept an unsuitable friend.

Citing Tevye to a certain ex-Witness nearly blew up in my face. At the movie’s end, the grizzled man mutters to himself, as his daughter and new husband depart for another continent: “And let God be with you,” as though he should have been expected to shout: “May you rot in hell.” I was told that the movie teaches forgiveness, acceptance, and unconditional love rather than a stubborn cleaving to tradition and the past.” Could he really have once been one of Jehovah’s Witnesses? The entire premise of the faith, and that of many Christian denominations, is that, assuming the “traditions” are biblical and not man-made, the old ideas are solid whereas the new ideas are tenuous, with sometimes deleterious after-effects. In fact, forgiveness, acceptance, and love all come with nuances. One can forgive without accepting disapproved conduct. One can also love without accepting it. “Tough love” was the phrase of yesterday. Today it is “unconditional love.” Tomorrow who knows what it will be? The scene of this world is changing.

It is not uncommon for children of Jehovah’s Witnesses to be baptized at ages as young as ten. Witness detractors argue that this is far too early to make such a consequential decision. Many offer themselves as a case in point. Some of them were Witnesses and were baptized at an early age. They later changed their mind. Some of these eventually found themselves disfellowshipped and will push to their dying day that they escaped from a cult whose members were ordered to reject their own children. Some have gone on television with that charge where they persuade viewer without too much effort that only the most “brainwashed” of people would disown their own children and that whoever did the “brainwashing” must be punished.

It is an example of “truth” that is not “the whole truth and nothing but the truth.” They are not children. In Witness literature the distinction is consistently made between those who are actual children and those who are young adults capable of following through on choices they have made through word or conduct. When disfellowshipping happens in the case of minors, it may result in a somewhat strained family life in which all components except the spiritual continue as before, usually with the added condition that the disfellowshipped one should still sit in on the family Bible study. When disfellowshipping happens in the case of the latter, such ones may be told that it is time to leave the nest. They are not outright abandoned, though there is variability in people and one should never say that it has not occurred. One father I know secured a job with his large employer for his departing son and let him know that he would always be there for him if truly needed. Another, in a family business arrangement, divided resources so that his young adult son could have a decent start outside the congregation. This was misrepresented as though he had thrown him out with nothing but the clothes on his back, and the father for a time became a community pariah, but eventually matters came out that he had actually been quite generous, whereby much of the reputational damage was restored.

Some disfellowshipped teens have run away from home, in a biblical twist of a drama as old as time. Such a dramatized case was presented in a short video at Regional Conventions of Jehovah’s Witnesses during 2017. A young woman had been disfellowshipped over sexual immorality, having sailed past all lesser forms of discipline unmoved. When she later called the home she had left—for she did run away in this case, against her folks’ wishes—her mom did not answer the phone, an action that the young woman later describes as crucial to her turnaround and reinstatement; if mom had extended just a little bit of fellowship, she recalls that it would have been enough for her to continue in her “headstrong” course.

This will not likely resonate with non-Witnesses today. “You would make such a fuss over chaste conduct?” many will say, aghast. “Haven’t we moved on from that?” Yet, it is a matter of adhering to the standards of the oldest book of time. Family feuds in the overall world are the stuff of legend, often started over matters far more petty, such as taking sides in the disputes of another family member. It is common today that old ones are dropped off in nursing homes, never to be visited again, for reasons no more substantial than that they became inconvenient. One would never say that it is routine for divisions in family to occur, but they are by no means unheard of.

The Witness organization has said that it does not instruct parents to not associate with their disfellowshipped children. But they have produced the video cited above of specific circumstances in which a parent ignores a phone call from one of them. What to make of this? Detractors will say that they are lying through their teeth with the first statement. I think not. I think they should be taken at their word—parents will reach their own decisions on the degree of contact they choose to maintain, since they can best assess extenuating circumstances. It becomes their decision—whether they find some or none at all. Specifically, what the Witness publications do is point out that there is no reason per se that normal counsel to avoid contact with those disfellowshipped is negated simply because there are family connections. That is not the same as “telling” families to break contact. It may seem like splitting hairs, but the difference is important.

That statement finds further support in the many Witnesses who have departed and subsequently report that, though they were never disfellowshipped, they still find themselves estranged from the family mix. Effectively, they are “shunned” without any announcement at all, evidence that a “cult” is not telling parents what to do, but it is the latter’s appreciation for Bible counsel that triggers that course. The specific mechanics of avoiding associations with those who have spun 180-degrees on prior spiritual convictions may be arguable, but the general principle is not. When no verbal direction is given, Witnesses defer to the general principle, so it becomes plain that it was the general principle all along, rather than the commands of eight tyrannical men at headquarters. “What harmony is there between Christ and Belial?” says Paul, referring to two polar-opposite worlds and those who would choose between them.

It is the “choice” that defines. Some family members fail to follow through on their decided course as Jehovah’s Witnesses, but they do not turn against it. Family relations may be less warm, but do not typically discontinue. It is only by making a choice that relations almost inevitably sour. Is it so hard to understand, given that spiritual things are important to Jehovah’s Witnesses? It is well-understood in matters of nations, where visiting an unfriendly country brings no sanction, but turning traitorous against one’s own does. In politics it is understood, too. When comedian Kathy Griffin holds aloft the mock severed head of the American president, does anyone think that her Republican dad (if he is) says: “That’s my lass! She speaks her mind. It won’t affect Thanksgiving dinner, though?” Of course it will.

The word “disfellowship” has not been heard in congregation announcements for perhaps a dozen years now—not that it has been purged from Witness vocabulary, but it is not explicitly stated. From time to time, an announcement is made that so and so “is no longer one of Jehovah’s Witnesses.” It is never made of one who has merely fallen inactive, but only of those who have departed from the faith through deed or word. Though, to my knowledge, no announcement has ever been made that such is the equivalent of disfellowshipping, people mostly treat it that way. Some of whom that announcement is made are shocked into regret and turning around. Others say “You got that right” as they turn the page and go on to another chapter of life. If it is said of someone who rejects the tenets of a religion that they are therefore no longer a part of it, what are they going to say—that they are? Few would challenge the statement.

Few would argue that youngsters have not the same maturity at age ten that they will have at twice that age. Ought they not be allowed to commit to the course they have come to believe is right, on the basis that they may later change their minds? It is not a good solution for Witnesses, though it be a great one for the anti-cultists, as it permits the latter more time to sway them. However, children will always do better when permitted to identify with their choices. John Holt, an education pioneer, maintained that a prime cause of juvenile delinquency is that children are shut out of the adult world—an unanticipated effect of child labor laws enacted to protect them. For children, the solution will not be to forbid them to act upon what they have come to believe. The solution will be to cut them slack when they, through inexperience, stumble along the way. Most likely, that is being done today, for Jehovah’s Witnesses, like everyone else, dearly love their children and want them to succeed.

As it turns out, I know a youngster who was disfellowshipped for a period of several months and was subsequently reinstated. He was a minor and he lived at the family home throughout the time. Months before he was disfellowshipped he had been reproved. Since I had a rapport with him, I afterwards approached to say that, while it was none of my business and I was not curious, still, if he ever wanted to discuss things, I would be available. Maybe, I allowed, he had come across some anti-Witness literature and had been intrigued. Maybe he had wanted to go to college and his parents had poured cold water on the idea. “Look, if you’ve gone gay on us—it doesn’t matter,” I said. “The point is that I have been around forever, I have seen everything, and I am not wound up too tight.” He was silent for a moment and then started telling me about this girl in another congregation. “Oh, girls are nothing but trouble!” I told him in an anticlimactic spirit. His woes were boiler-plate. Maybe he will marry the girl someday.

I had known him most of his life. As a young boy, he surfaces in my first book, Tom Irregardless and Me, as Willie, the lad who protested my introducing him at each door, so I responded that he could introduce me instead. That is how it had gone all morning, save for one or two awkward situations that I had handled. The householder would look at me in expectation and I would say: “Sorry, I’m too bashful. It’s his turn.” As long as he had been comfortable, it had remained his turn.

He also surfaces as Dietrich in the second book, No Fake News but Plenty of Hogwash. I only know two Dietrichs, and the younger is named after the older, a trustworthy man whom I almost gave a heart attack when I showed up to give the first talk at the District Convention, relieving him as chairman, with only seconds to spare—there he was with songbook in hand looking anxiously through the audience. I had been in the Chairman’s Office awaiting my escort, assuming that the current year’s procedure would be the same as the prior one’s. It wasn’t. Today it would be. Everyone “did what was right in his own eyes” back them. Even in small matters, there is a value in organization.

I followed the course with Willie and Dietrich that all Witnesses know and respect—I didn’t speak to him at all during his disfellowshipped time, save for only an instance or two that I could not resist. On a frigid day he dropped family members off at the door, parked, and strode toward the Kingdom Hall without a coat. Breaking all decorum, I said: “Look, I know there’s no contact and all, but did they even have to take your coat?” He liked that one. In time he was reinstated, and I later told him that there was a silver lining to be found in his experience—he would forever be an example of how discipline produces its intended effect in the Christian community. Actually, the word “shun” is never heard in the Witness community, just as the word “cult” is not, save for its age-old definition. It is unnecessarily harsh. Disfellowshipping is reversible and that always is the hoped-for outcome. “Shunning” does not adequately convey that distinction.

Always there will those of the opposite persuasion—not like Dietrich at all: persons disfellowshipped who aren’t too happy about it. Find a few of them, work up the narrative to make it as heart wrenching as possible, and it is hard to see how it cannot be a media grand slam every time. Hide the purpose of it and present it as petty vengeance—it is a view that will sell today. Paint those doing it as deprived of humanity—it flies. Paint as dictatorial the organization holding the course—that interpretation positively soars with some. This is the age of the individual, not the group that they have individually chosen. The view that carries the day with regard to any organization is—it may as well be the year text—“power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” If there are people in charge, they must be corrupt. To an irreligious crowd, whatever the offenses for which ones were disfellowshipped is all but judgmental religious nonsense anyway. We should have moved on from it long ago. The emotional component is strong and such narratives carry the day.

Beyond all question, Jehovah’s Witnesses march to a different drumbeat. They willingly yield to the influence of those who have chosen the same drumbeat, rather than those who pound the drums of the status-quo world. They can be easily be portrayed the very embodiment of a cult under the new updated definition, and the Bible itself a cult manual. It is because they are a religion that purports to be life-altering, rather than a religion that merely puts a smiley softening face on the quest for the status quo, that they run into anti-cultist opposition. Witness apostates who join forces with them lose sight completely of how religion can be the powerful force that it is with their former friends, or even relatives, and they agitate relentlessly for it not to be so.

To the congregation in Corinth, the apostle Paul writes: “For I am jealous over you with a godly jealousy, for I personally promised you in marriage to one husband that I might present you as a chaste virgin to the Christ.” Plainly, this concern is of no consequence to departing ones who have embraced atheism. Almost necessarily they must focus on individual rights, since what triggers a sense of responsibility among their former spiritual kin has become a non-factor to them. No, it will not be easy selling the idea of disfellowshipping to these ones.

From the book TrueTom vs the Apostates!

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Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the ebook ‘Dear Mr. Putin - Jehovah’s Witnesses Write Russia’ (free).... and in the West, with the ebook ‘TrueTom vs the Apostates!’ (free)

In Defense of Shunning

As the ultimate trump card of congregation discipline, to be applied when lesser measures have failed, is disfellowshipping cruel? It certainly could be, and increasingly is, argued that way. Undeniably it triggers pain to those who refuse to yield to it, “kicking against the goads,” as was said to Paul.  That said, suffice it to say that no group has been able maintain consistent moral principles through decades of time without it. I vividly recall circuit ministers of my faith saying: “Fifty years ago, the difference between Jehovah’s Witnesses and people in general was doctrinal. Conduct on moral matters, sexual or otherwise, was largely the same.” Today the chasm is huge. Can internal discipline not be a factor?

The book Secular Faith - How Culture Has Trumped Religion in American Politics attempts to reassure its secular audience through examining the changing moral stands of churches on five key issues. The book points out that today's church members have more in common with atheists than they do with members of their own denominations from decades past. Essentially, the reassurance to those who would mold societal views is: 'Don't worry about it. They will come around. They always do. It may take a bit longer, but it is inevitable.' Jehovah's Witnesses have thwarted this model by not coming around. Can internal discipline not be a factor?

In the case of Jehovah’s Witnesses, members voluntarily sign on to a program that reinforces goals they have chosen. Sometimes it is not enough to say that you want to diet. You must also padlock the fridge. It is not an infringement of freedom to those who have willingly signed aboard. They are always free to attempt their diet some place where they do not padlock the fridge. Experience shows, however, that not padlocking the fridge results in hefty people, for not everyone has extraordinary willpower.

If people want to padlock the fridge but they can’t do it because anti-cultists forbid that course, and they get hefty, as in the United States, for example, where the level of obesity is staggering, how is that not a violation of their individual rights? It is all a difference of view over the basic nature of people and what makes them tick. It is the individualists of today who would hold that you can’t even padlock your own fridge. No. Full freedom of choice must always be in front of each one of us, they say, notwithstanding that history demonstrates we easily toss with the waves in the absence of a firm anchor.

Christians are mandated to “imitate the Christ,” both individually and collectively. Given human imperfection, this can be done only with group-accepted tools of discipline to back up good intentions as needed. If anti-cultists would deny them these tools under the guise of protecting their individual rights, then what we are looking at is an attempt to outlaw Christianity true to its roots and enforce rule by the popular crowd. 

Disfellowshipping is unpleasant and some are so shocked to find themselves put out from their community of choice that they determine once and for all to mend whatever caused them to be ousted so as to regain entrance. But they do not all do that, and with the passing of time, these latter ones accumulate. Some continue on in life with a “been there, done that” mentality. But others expend considerable energy in settling the score with the organization that ousted them. One businessman in Canada even sued at being disfellowshipped—his customer base consisted mostly of Jehovah's Witnesses and most of them took their business elsewhere. A lower court agreed with him that those running his religion had “told” parishioners not to associate with the ex-member. But the Supreme Court decided that—did they really want to rule on biblical interpretation or on who had to hang out with whom?

The most disingenuous of disfellowshipped ones later frame their ousting as though it were over mere matters of disagreement. It was not their conduct that caused the trouble, they maintain, but it was simply disagreement over something, for example, the contention that leaving a spouse for another should trigger congregation sanctions. This was true of a prosecution witness at the Russian Supreme Court trial which resulted in banning the Jehovah's Witness faith. Responding to a request from the judge to cite instances of "control," [she] “reported that an example was her expulsion from the congregations after she ‘began her close, but not officially registered, relations with a man.’”

Other times it truly is over matters of disagreement with regard to interpretation or policy, and opposers try to frame things as did the Buffalo Springfield—that with Jehovah's Witnesses, it is "step out of line, the men come and take you away." Some of them present themselves almost as though freedom fighters. They came across something, perhaps, that they thought would entitle them to drive the bus. They left when they discovered that they would not be allowed grab the wheel. In some cases, they were caught red-handed trying to hotwire the bus. The “bus,” of course, is the Witness organization itself. In the end it is a too high opinion of oneself and one’s importance that sinks one. The worship and deeds of Jehovah’s Witnesses are magnified by their organized quality, and they either appeal to the heart or they don’t. If they don’t, then one magnifies disproportionately matters of individual rights.

The spirit of the times today far elevates rights over responsibilities. With Jehovah’s Witnesses, as with many religious people, it is the opposite. The responsibilities Christians feel is toward their spiritual kin. “Slave” for one another, the verse says, and many translations soften "slave" to "serve," but the root word at Galatians 5:13 undeniably indicates "slave” as the correct choice. Even before that, however, there is a responsibility toward God. The Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses dares not meddle with the disfellowshipping policy overmuch because they know it serves to keep the congregation "clean" so as to present to God what he insists upon: "a [clean] people for his name." (Acts 15:14)

A book by evangelical author Ronald J. Sider, The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience, highlights on the cover the question: ‘Why are Christians Living Just Like the Rest of the World?’ The author cites verse after verse of how Christian standards are “higher” than those of the greater world, and then example after example of how they are not with those claiming Christianity today. He concludes that it is largely a matter of church discipline. “Church discipline used to be a significant, accepted part of most evangelical traditions, whether Reformed, Methodist, Baptist, or Anabaptist,” he writes. “In the second half of the twentieth century, however, it has largely disappeared.” He goes on to quote Haddon Robinson on the current church climate, a climate he calls consumerism:

“Too often now when people join a church, they do so as consumers. If they like the product, they stay. If they do not, they leave. They can no more imagine a church disciplining them than they could a store that sells goods disciplining them. It is not the place of the seller to discipline the consumer. In our churches, we have a consumer mentality.”

Christians have a mandate to follow the Christ as best they can in speech and conduct. Consumerism makes that mandate effectively impossible. Yet it is the only model that today’s anti-cultists will permit. Anything veering toward discipline they paint as an intolerable affront to human rights. We must not be naïve. Theirs is no more than an attempt to stamp out biblical Christianity, veiled as though they are the very protectors of humanity.

The notion of protecting one’s values, through disciplinary action if need be, extends beyond Christianity. Was Tevye a cult member, he of the film Fiddler on a Roof? If so, no one has breathed a word of it until very recently. The third daughter of his Russian Jewish family was shunned for marrying outside of the faith. It is an action that would not trigger shunning in the Jehovah’s Witness community, though it would gain no praises. After all, if God is truly one’s best friend, ought one really make one’s second-best friend a person who is indifferent, perhaps even opposed, to the first? Only the atheistic anti-cultists will be blind to the logic of this, and that only because they would consider any god-concept an unsuitable friend.

Citing Tevye to a certain ex-Witness nearly blew up in my face. At the movie’s end, he mutters to himself, as his daughter and new husband depart for another continent,“and let God be with you,” as though he should have been expected to shout: “May you rot in hell.” I was told that the movie teaches forgiveness, acceptance, and unconditional love rather than a stubborn cleaving to tradition and the past.” Could he really have once been one of Jehovah’s Witnesses? The entire premise of the faith, and that of many Christian denominations, is that, assuming the “traditions” are biblical and not man-made, the old ideas are solid and the new ideas are tenuous, with sometimes deleterious after-effects. In fact, forgiveness, acceptance, and love are not mutually exclusive. One can forgive without accepting disapproved conduct. One can also love without accepting it. “Tough love” was the phrase of yesterday. Today it is “unconditional love.” Tomorrow who knows what it will be? The scene of this world is changing.

It is not uncommon for children of Jehovah's Witnesses to be baptized at ages as young as ten. Witness detractors argue that this is far too early to make such a consequential decision. Many offer themselves as a case in point. Some of them were Witnesses and were baptized at an early age. They later changed their mind. Some of these eventually found themselves disfellowshipped and will push to their dying day that they escaped from a cult whose members were ordered to reject their own children. Some have gone on television with that charge where they persuade viewer without too much effort that only the most “brainwashed” of people would disown their own children and that whoever did the “brainwashing” must be punished.

It is an example of "truth" that is not "the whole truth and nothing but the truth." They are not children. In Witness literature the distinction is consistently made between those who are actual children and those who are young adults capable of following through on choices they have made through word or conduct. When disfellowshipping happens in the case of minors, it may result in a somewhat strained family life in which all components except the spiritual continue as before, usually with the added condition that the disfellowshipped one should still sit in on the family Bible study. When disfellowshipping happens in the case of the latter, such ones may be told that it is time to leave the nest. They are not outright abandoned, though there is variability in people and one should never say that it has not occurred. One father I know secured a job with his large employer for his departing son and let him know that he would be there if truly needed. Another, in a family business arrangement, divvied up resources so that his young adult son could have a decent start outside the congregation. This was misrepresented as though he had thrown him out with nothing but the clothes on his back, and the father for a time became a community pariah, but eventually matters came out that he had actually been quite generous, whereby much of the reputational damage was restored.

Some disfellowshipped teens have run away from home, in a biblical twist of a drama as old as time. Such a dramatized case was presented in a short video at Regional Conventions of Jehovah's Witnesses during 2017. A young woman had been disfellowshipped over sexual immorality, having sailed past all lesser forms of discipline unmoved. When she later called the home she had left—for she did run away in this case, against her folks’ wishes—her mom did not answer the phone, an action that the young woman later describes as crucial to her turnaround and reinstatement; if mom had extended just a little bit of fellowship, she recalls that it would have been enough for her to continue in her "headstrong" course.

This will go down hard with non-Witnesses today. "You would make all this fuss over sex?" they will say, aghast. "Get them vaccinated for HPV and accept that they will do what they do." Yet, it is a matter of adhering to the standards of the oldest book of time. Family feuds are the stuff of legend, often started over matters far more petty, such as taking sides in the disputes of another family member. It is common today that old ones are dropped off in nursing homes, never to be visited again, for reasons no more substantial than that they became inconvenient. One would never say that it is routine for divisions in family to occur, but they are by no means unheard of.

The Witness organization has said that it does not instruct parents not to associate with their disfellowshipped children. But they have produced the video cited above of specific circumstances in which a parent ignores a phone call from one of them. What to make of this? Detractors will say that they are lying through their teeth with the first statement. I think not. I think they should be taken at their word—parents will reach their own decisions the on degree of contact they choose to maintain, since they can best assess extenuating circumstances. It becomes their decision—whether they find some or none at all. Specifically, what the Witness publications do is point out that there is no reason per se that normal counsel to avoid contact with those disfellowshipped is negated simply because there are family connections. That is not the same as “telling” families to break contact. It may seem like splitting hairs, but the difference is important.

That statement finds further support in the many Witnesses who have departed and subsequently report that, though they were never disfellowshipped, they still find themselves estranged from the family mix. Effectively, they are "shunned" without any announcement at all, evidence that a "cult" is not telling parents what to do, but it is their appreciation for Bible counsel that triggers that course. The specific mechanics of avoiding associations with those who have spun 180-degrees on prior spiritual convictions may be arguable, but the general principle is not. When no verbal direction is given, Witnesses defer to the general principle, so it becomes plain that it was the general principle all along, rather than the commands of eight tyrannical men at headquarters. “What harmony is there between Christ and Belial?” says Paul, referring to two polar-opposite worlds and those who would choose between them.

It is the "choice" that defines. Some family members fail to follow through on their decided course as Jehovah's Witnesses, but they do not turn against it. Family relations may cool, but do not typically discontinue. It is only by making a choice that relations tank. Is it so hard to understand, given that spiritual things are important to Jehovah's Witnesses? It is well-understood in matters of nations, where visiting an unfriendly country brings no sanction but turning traitorous against one's own does. In politics it is understood, too. When comedian Kathy Griffin holds aloft the mock severed head of the American president, does anyone think that her Republican dad (if he is) says: "That's my lass! She speaks her mind. It won't affect Thanksgiving dinner, though?” Of course it will.

The word ‘disfellowship’ has not been heard in congregation announcements for perhaps a dozen years now—not that it has been purged from Witness vocabulary, but it is not explicitly stated. From time to time, an announcement is made that such and such "is no longer one of Jehovah's Witnesses." It is never made of one who has merely fallen inactive, but only of those who have departed from the faith through deed or word. Though, to my knowledge, no announcement has ever been made that such is the equivalent of disfellowshipping, people mostly treat it that way. Some of whom that announcement is made are shocked into regret and turning around. Others say "You got that right" as they turn the page and go on to another chapter of life. If it is said of someone who rejects the tenets of a religion that they are therefore no longer a part of it, what are they going to say—that they are? Few would challenge the statement.

Few would argue that youngsters have not the same maturity at age ten that they will have at twice that age. Ought they not be allowed to commit to the course they have come to believe is right, on the basis that they may later change their minds? It is not a good solution for Witnesses, though it be a great one for the anti-cultists, as it permits the latter more time to sway them. However, children will always do better when permitted to identify with their choices. John Holt, an education pioneer, maintained that a prime cause of juvenile delinquency is that children are shut out of the adult world—an unanticipated effect of child labor laws enacted to protect them. For children, the solution will not be to forbid them to act upon what they have come to believe. The solution will be to cut them slack when they, through inexperience, stumble along the way. Most likely, that is being done today, for Jehovah's Witnesses, like everyone else, dearly love their children and want them to succeed.

As it turns out, I know a youngster who was disfellowshipped for a period of several months and was subsequently reinstated. He was a minor and he lived at the family home throughout the time. Months before he was disfellowshipped he had been reproved. Since I had a rapport with him, I afterwards approached to say that, while it was none of my business and I was not curious, still, if he ever wanted to discuss things, I would be available. Maybe, I allowed, he had come across some anti-Witness literature and had been intrigued. Maybe he had wanted to go to college and his parents had poured cold water on the idea. “Look, if you’ve gone gay on us—it doesn’t matter,” I said. “The point is that I have been around forever, I have seen everything, and I am not wound up too tight.” He was silent for a moment and then started telling me about this girl in another congregation. “Oh, girls are nothing but trouble!” I told him in an anticlimactic spirit. His woes were boiler-plate. Maybe he will marry the girl someday.

I had known him most of his life. As a young boy, he surfaces in my first book, Tom Irregardless and Me, as Willie, the lad who protested my introducing him at each door, so I responded that he could introduce me instead. That is how it had gone all morning, save for one or two awkward situations that I had handled. The householder would look at me in expectation and I would say “Sorry, I’m too bashful. It’s his turn.” As long as he had been comfortable, it had remained his turn. Hard on the householders? Probably not. Probably it was better for them to focus on the lad—I can become wearing over time.

He also surfaces as Dietrich in the second book, No Fake News but Plenty of Hogwash. I only know two Dietrichs, and the younger is named after the older, a trustworthy man whom I almost gave a heart attack when I showed up to give the first talk at the District Convention, relieving him as chairman, with only seconds to spare—there he was with songbook in hand looking anxiously through the audience. I had been in the Chairman’s Office awaiting my escort, assuming that the current year’s procedure would be the same as the prior one’s. It wasn’t. Today it would be. Everyone ‘did what was right in his own eyes’ back them. Even in small matters, there is a value in organization.

I followed the course with Willie and Dietrich that all Witnesses know and respect—I didn’t speak to him at all during his disfellowshipped time, save for only an instance or two that I could not resist. On a frigid day he dropped family members off at the door, parked, and strode toward the Kingdom Hall without a coat. Breaking all decorum, I said: “Look, I know there’s no contact and all, but did they even have to take your coat?” He liked that one. In time he was reinstated, and I later told him that there was a silver lining to be found in his experience—he would forever be an example of how discipline produces its intended effect in the Christian community. Actually, the word "shun" is never heard in the Witness community, just as the word "cult" is not, save for its age-old definition. It is unnecessarily harsh. Disfellowshipping is reversible and always the hoped-for outcome. "Shunning" does not convey that nuance.

Always there will those of the opposite persuasion--not like Dietrich at all: persons disfellowshipped who aren’t too happy about it. Find a few of them, work up the narrative to make it as heart wrenching as possible, and it is hard to see how it cannot be a media grand slam every time. Hide the purpose of it and present it as petty vengeance—it is a view that will sell today. Paint those doing it as deprived of humanity—it flies. Paint as dictatorial the organization holding the course—that interpretation positively soars with some. This is the age of the individual, not the group that they have individually chosen. The view that carries the day with regard to any organization is—it may as well be the year text—"power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” If there are people in charge, they must be corrupt. To an irreligious crowd, whatever the offenses for which ones were disfellowshipped is all but judgmental religious nonsense anyway. We should have moved on from it long ago. The emotional component is strong and such narratives carry the day.

Beyond all question, Jehovah’s Witnesses march to a different drumbeat. They willingly yield to the influence of those who have chosen the same drumbeat, rather than those who pound the drums of the status-quo world. They can be easily be portrayed the very embodiment of a cult under the new updated definition, and the Bible itself a cult manual. It is because they are a religion that purports to be meaningful, rather than a religion that merely puts a smiley softening face on the quest for the status quo, that they run into anti-cultist opposition.

To the congregation in Corinth, the apostle Paul writes: "For I am jealous over you with a godly jealousy, for I personally promised you in marriage to one husband that I might present you as a chaste virgin to the Christ." Plainly, this concern is of no consequence to departing ones who have embraced atheism. Almost necessarily they must focus on individual rights, since what triggers a sense of responsibility among their former spiritual kin has become a non-factor to them. No, it will not be easy selling the idea of shunning to these ones.

 

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I'll Stay Where There is a Measure of Sanity

Q: "Since the Organization has received "new light" regarding the 1914 generation, and completely changed their view on this, does this mean that all the former Jehovah's Witnesses who were disfellowshipped years ago for the same view the organization is now teaching will automatically be accepted into fellowship again?"

Of course. It is not automatic, though. Such ones have gone on to other things. What are you going to do, search the globe for them?

If they have not gotten too carried away with their own brilliance, they can apply for reinstatement and providing that that is the sole hang-up, yes, they will be reinstated.

This is not rocket science. It happens all the time. The Witness organization is very open about it. Many times they have adjusted a viewpoint to coincide with what somebody else years ago said. Alas, often that 'somebody else' is long gone. I thnk this was mentioned again on a recent monthly broadcast. John says that they went out from among us 'because they were not of our sort.' Part of being 'of our sort' is acquiescing to the theocratic direction that they signed on for in the first place. (1 John 2:19)

Look, if you want to belong to some outfit where everyone can have an epiphany and then become livid at everyone else for not falling into line, be my guest. I'll stay where there is a measure of sanity.

Idea

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The Trump Card of Christian Discipline

As an ultimate trump card of congregation discipline, to be applied when lesser measures have failed, is disfellowshipping cruel? It certainly could be, and increasingly is, argued that way. Undeniably it triggers pain to those who refuse to yield to it, “kicking against the goads,” as was told Paul.  That said, suffice it to say that no group has been able maintain its deeply-held moral principles over decades of time without it.

I vividly remember circuit ministers of my faith saying: “Fifty years ago, the difference between Jehovah’s Witnesses and people in general was doctrinal. Conduct on moral matters, sexual or  otherwise, was pretty much the same.” Today the chasm is huge. Can internal discipline not be a factor?

The book 'Secular Faith - How Culture Has Trumped Religion in American Politics' attempts to reassure its secular audience through examining the changing moral stands of churches on five key issues. The book points out that today's church members have more in common with atheists than they do with members of their own denominations of decades past. Essentially, the reassurance to those who would mold societal views is: 'Don't worry about it. They will come around. They always do. It may take a bit longer, but it is inevitable.' Jehovah's Witnesses have thwarted this model by not coming around. Can internal discipline not be a factor?

In the case of Jehovah’s Witnesses, members voluntarily sign on to a program that reinforces goals they have already chosen. Sometimes it is not enough to say that you want to diet. You must padlock the fridge. It is not an infringement of freedom to those who have willingly signed aboard. They are always free to attempt to diet some place where they do not padlock the fridge. Experience shows, however, that not padlocking the fridge results in overweight people, for not everyone has extraordinary willpower.

If people want to padlock the fridge but they can’t do it because malcontents forbid that course and they get big and fat, as in the United States, for example, where the level of obesity is breathtaking, how is that not a violation of their individual rights? It is all a difference over the basic nature of people and what makes them tick. It is the individualists of today who would hold that you can’t even padlock your own fridge. No. Full freedom of choice must always be in front of each one of us, they say, notwithstanding that history demonstrates we do nothing but sway with the wind in the absence of a firm anchor.

 

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A (Sort of) Review of the Movie 'Apostasy'

I have not seen the movie Apostasy, which seemingly makes me ineligible to comment on it. Perhaps I will in time. Partly offsetting that lack is that I am a 45-year active member of the religion featured, and thus have more familiarity of the topic than even the filmmaker. Nor do I feel that I have to see the movie to judge its overall merit. I accept from the other reviewers that it is well crafted and acted.

It is a wrenching time anywhere when an offspring departs from the moral principles in which he/she has been raised. As an ultimate trump card of congregation discipline, to be applied when lesser measures have failed, is disfellowshipping cruel? It certainly could be, and increasingly is, argued that way. Undeniably it triggers pain. That said, suffice it to say that no group has been able maintain its deeply-held moral principles through decades of time without it.

I vividly remember circuit ministers of my faith saying: “Fifty years ago, the difference between Jehovah’s Witnesses and people in general was doctrinal. Conduct on moral matters, sexual or  otherwise, was pretty much the same.” Today the chasm is huge. Can internal discipline not be a factor?

The book 'Secular Faith - How Culture Has Trumped Religion in American Politics' attempts to reassure its secular audience through examining the changing moral stands of churches on five key issues. The book points out that today's church members have more in common with atheists than they do with members of their own denominations of decades past. Essentially, the reassurance to those who would mold societal views is: 'Don't worry about it. They will come around. They always do. It may take a bit longer, but it is inevitable.' Jehovah's Witnesses have not come around. Can internal discipline not be a factor?

Not everyone will say that greater society is ever on an upward trajectory, with each new development representing an advance. Some will maintain that the overall pattern more closely resembles a death spiral. In a pluralistic society, it must be ‘to each his own.’ Yet, it is not true that if you fail to train your children, they will grow up free and unencumbered, and, when of age, select their own values from the rich cornucopia of life. No. All it means is that someone else will train them.

I have not discerned if the older daughter’s sex-outside-of-marriage, which triggered disfellowshipping, is presented as ‘apostasy.’ Plainly, it is not. Apostasy is a decisive, usually public, repudiation of one’s previously held religious beliefs, which is entirely different than merely falling short of them. All religious denominations have their ‘apostates.’ Those of Jehovah’s Witnesses are more vehement than most because the faith they depart from takes more decisive stands. There is not a New Testament writer who does not address, often at length, the subject of apostasy. Is it only in the religious world that such matters causes division? When Kathy Griffin holds aloft the mock severed head of the President, are we to imagine that her Republican dad (if he is) says: “That’s my lass! She speaks her mind. It won’t affect holiday cheer, though”?

What is possibly left unstated in the film is that the door that is closed is never locked. About a third (a rough guess) of those disfellowshipped from Jehovah’s Witnesses are eventually reinstated and become quite active once more. There are plenty of single-parent families within Jehovah’s Witnesses, a circumstance that comes about in any number of ways, including that of the oldest daughter. Other disfellowshipped ones will conclude that the faith just didn’t work out for them and move on. Still others will have the rough sense that if you are caught cheating in the card game and refuse thereafter to mend your ways, it is not a surprise to find yourself ejected. But others will not get over the hurt they may feel, which can be deep, and thereafter work to call attention to what they perceive is a great wrong. It is part of the world we live in and must be accommodated. Sometimes people simply want to be heard. Nevertheless, nobody should imagine that the filmmaker is impartial. Nor am I. Nor, if we are honest, are many people about anything.

As to the second daughter portrayed as a victim to the Witnesses' stand on blood transfusion, just once I would like to hear that the same group that avoids transfusion also avoids alcohol and drug abuse, tobacco use, and even war participation, making it by far one of the ‘safest’ religions out there.

It is an irreligious world that increasingly prevails today. There is no sense pining for the ‘good old days’ when it did not. Some will think that the good days are just arriving. One must operate in the reality that is. Still, when the third daughter in the Jewish ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ family was shunned for doing something that would not cause shunning among Jehovah’s Witnesses, I recall no condemnation of the Jewish faith for that reason.

(See 'A (sort of) Review of the Movie 'Apostasy' - Part 2)

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