“Is It Wrong to Change Your Religion?”

“No one should be forced to worship in a way that he finds unacceptable or be made to choose between his beliefs and his family. Does study of the Bible lead to family breakup? No. In fact, the Bible encourages a husband and wife who practice different religions to remain together as a family. – 1 Corinthians 7:12, 13.”

That is a direct quote from the article on pages 28-29 entitled, “Is It Wrong to Change Your Religion?” in the July 2009 Awake! journal published by Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Changing your religion cuts you off from your community
Cover shot of “Is It Wrong to Change Your Religion?” from the Awake! journal dated July 2009.
Adapted from a submission by Roger Kirkpatrick

It’s clear that Jehovah’s Witnesses are critical of other religious groups who cut off former members who change their religion to become Jehovah’s Witnesses. However, Jehovah’s Witnesses are probably one of the most extreme groups when it comes to cutting off former members who leave their religion. Thus, when those who disassociate from Jehovah’s Witnesses for whatever reason, the religion cuts them off from the community. To change religion, or to stop believing, is viewed as rejecting God and disrespecting the spiritual family.

When Roger Kirkpatrick left Jehovah’s Witnesses because his conscience would not allow him to continue as a member (Rev. 18:4), his wife of 44 years informed him that she wanted a divorce (Mal. 2:15, 16).

As a youngster, having been raised in a devout Jehovah’s Witness family, his father had a number of morally exemplary friends who had disassociated from Jehovah’s Witnesses for reasons of conscience and with whom he was free to maintain normal social contact.

However, in 1981 the Watch Tower Society mandated that persons who voluntarily disassociated from Jehovah’s Witnesses were to henceforth be treated the same as those who had been disfellowshipped for wrongdoing. This change in belief, doctrine and practice meant that such persons were to be shunned.

When Kirkpatrick first read the aforementioned quote from the July 2009 Awake! article, he believed that a major readjustment in Watch Tower Society policy regarding disassociated ones was imminent. But no such readjustment occurred.

In fact, Jehovah’s Witnesses consider persons who disassociate from their religion for reasons of conscience to be worse than persons disfellowshipped for wrongdoing. Such ones are deemed by the religious group to be “’mentally diseased apostates,” and they seek to infect others with their disloyal teachings.’ Jehovah’s Witnesses are mandated to shun such persons. They use such expressions as “Avoid them”, “turn away from them,” keep away from them,” and “stay away from them!” – See The Watchtower 2011, July 15 p.16, para 6.

Individuals are free to shun whomever they wish for any reason whatsoever. Organizations and private clubs are free to establish and enforce certain requirements for membership and to expel any member who flagrantly violates such requirements. But to mandate and enforce the shunning of former members, including members of one’s family, is a clear violation of basic human rights. So, why are religious organizations such as Jehovah’s Witnesses permitted to violate the basic human rights of former members while being afforded protections guaranteed by the First Amendment?

Do we not all agree with former President Barack Obama, who said, “We should soundly reject language coming out of the mouths of any of our leaders that feeds a climate of fear and hatred or normalises racist sentiments; leaders who demonise those who don’t look like us, or suggest that other people, including immigrants, threaten our way of life, or refer to other people as sub-human”?

Do we not also agree with Pulitzer Prize-winning author, Lawrence Wright, who wrote, “There is no question that a belief system can have positive, transformative effects on people’s lives.” and “They have the right to believe whatever they choose. But it is a different matter to use the protections afforded a religion by the First Amendment to falsify history, to propagate forgeries, and to cover up human-rights abuses”?

The Watch Tower Society incites Jehovah’s Witnesses, through the mouths of their leaders and the pages of their publications to hate former members, to treat them as sub-human, as “mentally diseased”.

Is it any wonder then, that many former Jehovah’s Witnesses were delighted when a criminal court in Belgium ruled that the Watch Tower Society’s mandated shunning policy constitutes discrimination and an incitement to hate? Likewise in Norway, the Jehovah’s Witnesses lost a court battle against one of their members whom they disfellowshipped over 2 years ago after she was raped in a hotel room. They were directed to reinstate the victim, pay $50k plus $38k to cover hers expenses and another $10k in damages.

While the Jehovah’s Witnesses will appeal these cases and claim human rights as a right to abuse the rights of former members, it gets courts in these countries looking at religious doctrine that is used as an excuse to break human rights laws. We hope these rulings are upheld and that these have a knock-on benefit to victims of Jehovah’s Witnesses in other countries.

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