Is to Isolate Victims Merciful?

In the October 2021 Edition of The Watchtower, it includes an article entitled, “We Serve the God Who Is “Rich in Mercy.”” The article asks the question, “Can Firm Discipline be Merciful?” In it the reader is directed to consider an illustration of why a shepherd would isolate a sick sheep, and likens a disfellowshipped Christian to that ailing sheep.

Before we consider the logical fallacies, the deceptions and the lies presented in this article, one should remember that Jehovah’s Witnesses have written many articles about disfellowshipping their members and ways in which to isolate such ones, including family members. Here are some examples of what they have said over the years.

Pay close attention to what is said to the public as a Frequently Asked Question on their website (the first quote) and compare it to what they say to their members in their literature. Note too what they say about disfellowshipped family members visiting their blood relatives in a 1974 edition of the The Watchtower. and how a mere seven years later, they renounce this position. With these points in mind, one must be careful not to accept what Jehovah’s Witnesses claim at face value.

What of a man who is disfellowshipped but whose wife and children are still Jehovah’s Witnesses? The religious ties he had with his family change, but blood ties remain. The marriage relationship and normal family affections and dealings continue.

Do Jehovah’s Witnesses Shun Those Who Used to Belong to Their Religion?,, ijwfq article 9, undated (Accessed July 22, 2021).

Family members can show love for the congregation and the erring one by respecting the disfellowshipping decision … All in the congregation can show principled love by avoiding contact and conversation with the disfellowshipped person.

Why Disfellowshipping Is a Loving Provision, The Watchtower, April 2015, Study Edition

We do not have spiritual or social fellowship with disfellowshipped ones … Is strict avoidance necessary? Yes… our firm stand for Bible principles may even benefit the disfellowshipped one … What if a relative is disfellowshipped? … Loyal Christian family members do not look for excuses to have dealings with a disfellowshipped relative not living at home.”

Appendix: How to Treat a Disfellowshipped Person, Keep Yourselves in God’s Love, 2014

Whether a disfellowshipped person sits next to a relative or next to any other member of the congregation should not be a cause for concern as long as he behaves properly. Restricting where a person sits could give rise to various problems, depending on the circumstances. If all present, including faithful relatives, are endeavoring to respect Bible principles relating to disfellowshipping, and it is not becoming a cause for stumbling to the brothers, there is no need to make an issue of the seating arrangements of those attending Christian meetings*
*footnote: This updates what was published in The Watchtower of April 1, 1953, page 223.

Would it be appropriate for Christian parents to sit with a disfellowshipped child at congregation meetings?, The Watchtower, August 2013, Study Edition

At times, it is necessary to disfellowship unrepentant wrongdoers from the congregation. Even such drastic action should be considered discipline, not merely punishment.

Appreciating the Purpose of Discipline, The Watchtower, October 1 2003

Similarly, if a relative, such as a parent, son or daughter, is disfellowshiped (sic) or has disassociated himself, blood and family ties remain. Does that mean, then, that in the family circle everything remains the same when one member is disfellowshiped? (sic) Definitely not … Such a person is still related by blood or marriage, and so there may be some limited need to care for necessary family matters. Nonetheless, it is not as if he were living in the same home where contact and conversation could not be avoided … Christians related to such a disfellowshiped (sic) person living outside the home should strive to avoid needless association, even keeping business dealings to a minimum … Normally, relatives are often together at meals, picnics, family reunions or other social gatherings. But when someone has unrepentantly pursued sin and has had to be disfellowshiped, he may cause difficulties for his Christian relatives in regard to such gatherings. While they realize that they are still related to him, they do not want to ignore Paul’s advice that faithful Christians should “quit mixing in company” with an expelled sinner.

If a Relative Is Disfellowshiped (sic) … The Watchtower, September 15 1981

As to disfellowshiped (sic) family members (not minor sons or daughters) living outside the home, each family must decide to what extent they will have association with such ones. This is not something that the congregational elders can decide for them. What the elders are concerned with is that “leaven” is not reintroduced into the congregation through spiritual fellowshiping (sic) with those who had to be removed as such “leaven.” Thus, if a disfellowshiped (sic) parent goes to visit a son or daughter or to see grandchildren and is allowed to enter the Christian home, this is not the concern of the elders. Such a one has a natural right to visit his blood relatives and his offspring. Similarly, when sons or daughters render honor to a parent, though disfellowshiped (sic), by calling to see how such a one’s physical health is or what needs he or she may have, this act in itself is not a spiritual fellowshiping (sic).

Maintaining a Balanced Viewpoint Toward Disfellowshiped (sic) Ones, The Watchtower, August 1 1974

Disfellowshiping (sic), expulsion from the Christian congregation because of willful violation of God’s laws governing Christians, will have a good effect upon all concerned and also upon all observing if all of such are properly responsive thereto. In such a circumstance, any attachments to the disfellowshiped (sic) person, whether these be ties of personal friendship, blood relation or otherwise, must take second place to the theocratic disciplinary action that has been taken.

Do You Belittle Discipline?, The Watchtower, May 15 1963

It is all right for the faithful members of the family to ride with the disfellowshiped (sic) one in a car bound for the Kingdom Hall, but upon arrival the faithful ones should not sit with or associate with the disfellowshiped (sic) one at the hall, but rejoin him only when departing for home.

In this section of the November 15, 1952, Watchtower it was stated: “The faithful marriage partner would not discuss religion with the apostate or disfellowshiped (sic) and would not accompany that one to his (or her) place of religious association and participate in the meetings with that one.” Does this mean that if the man of the house is disfellowshiped (sic), but attends the meetings at the Kingdom Hall, the faithful members of the family may not ride with him in the family car when he drives there?—O. G., Kansas., The Watchtower, April 1 1953

We are not living today among theocratic nations where such members of our fleshly family relationship could be exterminated for apostasy from God and his theocratic organization, as was possible and was ordered in the nation of Israel in the wilderness of Sinai and in the land of Palestine … Being limited by the laws of the worldly nation in which we live and also by the laws of God through Jesus Christ, we can take action against apostates only to a certain extent, that is, consistent with both sets of laws. The law of the land and God’s law through Christ forbid us to kill apostates, even though they be members of our own flesh-and-blood family relationship … Satan’s influence through the disfellowshiped (sic) member of the family will be to cause the other member or members of the family who are in the truth to join the disfellowshiped (sic) member in his course or in his position toward God’s organization.

In the case of where a father or mother or son or daughter is disfellowshiped (sic), how should such person be treated by members of the family in their family relationship?—P. C., Ontario, Canada., The Watchtower, November 15 1952

In view of the foregoing, a cautious review of what is claimed in the October 2021 Study Edition of the The Watchtower would be advisable.

An unrepentant sinner?

In paragraph 9 of the article, We Serve the God Who Is “Rich in Mercy”, the anonymous writer asks two questions and answers them, “Is disfellowshipping really an expression of mercy? Yes, it is.” and “Can getting disfellowshipped help an unrepentant sinner change his course? It can.” After the first question and answer, he claims that withholding “discipline from someone who needs it is not wise, merciful or loving” and quotes Proverbs 13:24 which is about corporal punishment of a child using a rod. While the verse, if you accept the Bible as the inerrant word of God, may support the claim that it is loving, it does not support the claims that it is wise or merciful. After the second question and answer, he claims that “Many who have fallen into serious sin have found that the firm action the elders took gave them the very jolt they needed to come to their senses, change their course of action, and return to Jehovah’s warm embrace.” There are a number of issues with this claim.

Firstly, the reader is not told how many have “come to their senses” from the “firm action the elders took”. “Many” is very subjective. Considering that there are 8.4 million Jehovah’s Witnesses and that tens of thousands are disfellowshipped every year, with only about one third returning to the group, we should be very cautious about accepting that vague reference to a value as being anything greater than the lower number that return. Put simply, if 1000 are disfellowshipped, and only one third return, then the “many” in this case is 333. Many more (667) have not “found that the firm action the elders took” as merciful. Therefore the writer has used a hasty generalization to exaggerate how many agree with elders’ judicial actions.

Secondly, not all those who are disfellowshipped have been disfellowshipped for immorality. While disfellowshipping may be “the very jolt they needed to come to their senses”, for individuals in certain cases to “change their course of action”, there are a cohort of disfellowshipped ones who committed no serious sin.

Some have disassociated because they were victims of child abuse and their cases were grossly mishandled. If anything, the “firm action the elders took” in this situation would only serve to exacerbate the situation (Australian Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, Case Study 29, Day 153, Mr Angus Stewart SC questioning Terence J. O’Brien, Jehovah’s Witnesses Branch Coordinator for Australia).

Others have left the organization for various reasons of conscience and have applied the Bible principle at Revelation 18:4. Disfellowshipping a person because they couldn’t conscionably continue as a member can not morally be classified as a “serious sin”.

There are those who didn’t commit the act(s) of which they are accused. For example, in a case involving a Jehovah’s Witness in Ireland, Jehovah’s Witness elders accused a female member of slander because she came to them complaining that her husband was committing adultery. She was disfellowshipped for her “serious sin”. Subsequent to that, it was discovered that she was telling the truth. Her husband was committing adultery. Did the elders correct the mistake? No. The Jehovah’s Witnesses judicial process has no means for the elders to correct mistakes they make. None. Members are to accept that all decisions they make are correct (Moram V Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Ireland and Others).

Clearly, not all who are disfellowshipped are unrepentant sinners. Disfellowshipping can have no merciful effect on those who have committed no serious sin. None at all. While it may work in some situations, it doesn’t work in every case. And in how many cases it does work is not revealed. This is an important point because the organization keeps a record of all those who are disfellowshipped. It would not be difficult for the writer to reveal to readers how effective disfellowshipping has on unrepentant sinners by disclosing its effectiveness. This data is noticeably concealed from those who shun and are shunned. The reader is led to believe that it is effective, when it’s most probable that it is not.

False Dilemma: Isolate

The writer of the Watchtower article in paragraph 10 directs the reader to consider an illustration of a shepherd treating his sick sheep. The writer says that “treating this particular illness requires that he isolate the ailing sheep from the rest of the flock” and claims, “by isolating the sick one, he protects the whole flock”. He goes on to say in paragraph 11 that “When a Christian is disfellowshipped, we might think of him as being like that ailing sheep. He is sick in a spiritual sense … So it is necessary in some cases to isolate a spiritually sick individual from the congregation. ” 

The illustration is logically fallacious. The writer uses a false dilemma of a sheep’s single unknown illness to justify the need to isolate all sinners, irrespective of the type of serious sins committed. What if the sheep had another illness that did not require isolation? The illustration wouldn’t work, would it? The illustration requires that the only treatment is to isolate.

The writer says that its only “in some cases” that it is necessary “to isolate” an “individual from the congregation.” What are these cases? To the unwary reader it would seem that it’s only used in very limited situations. As mentioned previously, congregation elders isolate those who have disassociated or even those who have been wrongly disfellowshipped. Below is a list from Shepherd the Flock of God (April 2020 Edition) in which a person can be isolated. Considering how many cases of serious sin are listed here in which someone can be disfellowshipped, would you agree that the writer is not completely honest in how Jehovah’s Witnesses limit their use of isolation?

  1. Sexual Immorality (Porneia)
  2. Adulterous Marriage
  3. Child Abuse
  4. Gross Uncleanness, Uncleanness With Greediness:
    • Momentary Touching of Intimate Body Parts or Caressing of Breasts
    • Immoral Conversations Over the Telephone or the Internet
    • Viewing Abhorrent Forms of Pornography
    • Misuse of Tobacco or Marijuana and Abuse of Medical, Illicit, or Addictive Drugs
    • Extreme Physical Uncleanness
  5. Brazen Conduct:
    • Unnecessary Association With Disfellowshipped or Disassociated Individuals
    • Dating Though Not Scripturally Free to Remarry
  6. Drunkenness
  7. Gluttony
  8. Stealing, Thievery
  9. Deliberate, Malicious Lying; Bearing False Witness
  10. Fraud, Slander
  11. Reviling
  12. Obscene Speech
  13. Greed, Gambling, Extortion
  14. Refusal to Provide for Family
  15. Fits of Anger, Violence, Domestic Violence
  16. Manslaughter
  17. Apostasy:
    1. Celebrating False Religious Holidays
    2. Participation in Interfaith Activities
    3. Deliberately Spreading Teachings Contrary to Bible Truth
    4. Causing Division, Promoting Sects
    5. Employment Promoting False Religion
    6. Spiritism
    7. Idolatry

Loving for whom? Those who Isolate or those who are Isolated?

In paragraph 11, the writer says, “This discipline is an expression of Jehovah’s love for faithful members of His flock, and it may reach the wrongdoer’s heart and lead him to repentance.” Notice that the love is shown, not to the isolated, but to those who isolate. According to the writer, Jehovah loves those who shun. What about those who are shunned? Well, shunning is not a loving act. If it was, we are sure that Jehovah’s Witnesses would have an endless supply of former disfellowshipped members thronging to tell us all how wonderful the whole experience has been on their lives. In a letter dated April 2020, the Jehovah’s Witnesses sought experiences from those who “openly express their confidence that the disfellowshipping arrangement is loving, and that they have personally benefited from this discipline.” (RE: Disfellowshipped ones who have returned, Letter to all Bodies of Elders dated April 16, 2020).

April 16, 2020: Letter to all Bodies of Elders

This is a classic example of confirmation bias. The circuit overseers were requested to search for individuals who would confirm or support their beliefs or values that individuals who were disfellowshipped found the arrangement loving. Surely, if the organization is as honest as they like to think they are, they would have presented both sides of the argument. If it was a truthful claim, surely more would claim to have benefited from the arrangement than those who have not.

Only Unrepentant Sinners are Disfellowshipped?

The writer claims in paragraph 12 of the article “that only unrepentant sinners are disfellowshipped”. How can the writer know this? Firstly, he would need to review all cases of disfellowshipping. Secondly, he would have to determine if the elders actions were correctly handled. And finally, he would have to interview the penitent to determine if they agreed with how the matter is handled.

All cases of disfellowshipping are not reviewed. Once the elders have made their decision, they complete a S-77 form Notification of Disfellowshipping or Disassociation and provide details about the person being disfellowshipped. A copy is sent to the branch, where it is reviewed for accuracy only. It is not reviewed to ensure the elders followed the process correctly. It is then electronically stored in a system known as HuB that is accessible to elders with appropriate rights. The congregation elders keep a copy of the S-77 along with a summary of the case and place it in a sealed envelope and store it at the kingdom hall (Shepherd the Flock of God Chapter 22).

The Jehovah’s Witnesses’ judicial process is not regulated. The decisions made by the elders in a judicial committee meeting are final in all cases. Only if an appeal is made is another set of elders brought in to review the case. The appeal committee is not performed because of “a lack of confidence in the judicial committee. Rather, it is a kindness to the wrongdoer and ensures a fair hearing that takes into consideration all of the pertinent facts. The appeal committee” is to “keep in mind that the judicial committee likely has more insight and experience regarding the accused.” (Shepherd the Flock of God, chapter 17, paragraph 3). So, there is not that the appeal committee is regulating the decision of the original committee. No. They are only re-initiating the process, where the penitent must relive the shame once again, but this time with persons they may not know.

The Jehovah’s Witnesses claim that the elders are not perfect and provide examples of their imperfections, including being prejudiced, a source of stumbling, and can be offensive and hurtful. Yet, we are to remain humble and accept their decisions, including judicial matters, even if they are wrong (Do You Share Jehovah’s Sense of Justice? The Watchtower April 2017 Study Edition). Why is it that when a person makes a mistake he must be disfellowshipped from the congregation, but when an elder makes a serious error of judgment, including erring in disfellowshipping someone wrongly, that we must remain humble, and continue to shun the wrongfully disfellowshipped one? Is that wrongly disfellowshipped one to humbly submit to the wrong actions of the elders and keep quiet? Is this how we share Jehovah’s sense of justice? Surely not! Are these not reasons enough to properly regulate the Jehovah’s Witness judicial process?

The Jehovah’s Witnesses have no process in place to assess the penitents experience in a judicial committee meeting. There is no biblical prohibition on questioning penitents in this regard. If anything, it would help Jehovah’s Witnesses improve their process without adversely affecting any biblical precedent they may have. Surely, it is fair to say that the judicial process is an imperfect system performed by imperfect men. Any improvement can only be made by having the humility to accept that it can be improved upon.

It is evident that those who were repentant have been disfellowshipped. Others who had not sinned at all, have also been disfellowshipped. And still others who were accused wrongly were also disfellowshipped. Therefore, to claim that “only unrepentant sinners” are disfellowshipped is a lie. It is a lie because it can only be true if the elders are perfect. And the The Watchtower has admitted it is not. And in the case of Moram v WT Ireland, Jehovah’s Witnesses have admitted that they have no process to correct mistakes that elders make in the judicial committee. This is true. There has never been a case where imperfect congregation elders have stood in front of their congregation and admitted that they have wronged a congregant.

In Conclusion

No matter how many disfellowshipping articles Jehovah’s Witnesses may publish does nothing to promote the practice. It may justify the practice in the minds of those who authorize the articles, those who write them, and those who follow them. However it changes nothing for those who disagree with the practice.

If we were shunned prior to the writing of the latest article, we will continue to be shunned. The Jehovah’s Witnesses will continue to disfellowship people, rightly or wrongly. They will continue to require congregations, family and friends to shun those they love, irrespective of whether the imperfect elders’ decision is right or wrong.

It is evident that the Jehovah’s Witnesses judicial committee process is inherently flawed. Any judicial process that is inherently flawed is a harmful process. Any judicial process that is not regulated has the ability to harm. Any judicial process where the judges are above reproach is going to cause harm. Any judicial process where the victim is not afforded due process is going to cause harm.

If you have read this article and you have been affected by shunning, we would love for you to Tell Your Story. Unlike the Jehovah’s Witnesses who only want to hear from those who have “personally benefited” from being shunned, we are interested in those who have “personally benefited” and those who have not.

One Response to “Is to Isolate Victims Merciful?

  • Donald Brown
    1 year ago

    The very act of disfellowshipping is unscriptural and not good at all. In the 1947 Awake, it asked the question; “Are You Excommunicated?” At that time, the Jehovah’s Witnesses viewed shunning and disfellowshipping unbiblical and cruel. They were railing against the Catholic church for practicing this, but then a short five years later, the Jehovah’s Witnesses themselves adopted this very evil practice and have strengthend it over the years making it doctrine in their organization. So there is no way that the Watchtower organization is God’s organization because if they claimed that disfellowshipping was an unbiblical practice back in 1947, then what has changed about it now? Why is it now a Biblical practice according to them?

    The reason why they use it now is what they noticed about it from the Catholic church back in 1947. They realized that the Catholic church used disfellowshipping as a weapon to control their members, and that’s exactly what the Watchtower is using it for today. It is a machine of control over their members to keep them in the organization. The whole idea of possibly loosing your family and friends is the control Mechanism that the Watchtower has looming over the heads of every single Jehovah’s Witness. The fear of being disfellowshipped is on everyone’s minds.

    They’re taught that they are to submit totally to the organization and the governing body and that are not to question what they do. The very act of questioning the governing body is worthy of disfellowshipping. This religion is run much like North Korea, and has been called the North Korea of religions by some individuals including myself.

    They implemented this practice a short five years later after 1947 when they realized how powerful of a tool this could be in making sure that the rank and file obey everything and remain within the organization. This disfellowshipping arrangement has been modified over the years to make it even stronger and more direct. This is definitely a very evil practice.

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