Jehovah’s Witnesses disfellowship “unrepentant wrongdoers,” for diverse reasons ranging from apostasy to smoking. Disfellowshipped members are to be shunned by all family and friends, often for life, causing incalculable suffering. Is this practice Scriptural?
Disfellowshipping deviates from Bible guidelines in numerous ways:
- The word disfellowship does not appear in the Bible
- A person can be disfellowshipped for practices never discussed in the Bible
- Disfellowshipping is extended to family members
- Disfellowshipping is decided before a closed committee and not the congregation
- Watchtower forbids greeting a disfellowshipped person, misapplying 2 John 10 discussion of the Antichrist
- Other Scriptures such as 1 Corinthians 5 only suggest limiting association, not strict shunning
- A person will continue to be shunned despite no longer practicing the wrongdoing unless formally reinstated
The word disfellowship does not appear in the Bible, and disfellowshipping was not practiced by Jehovah’s Witnesses in its current form until 1952, 68 years after the religion was founded.
Originally, wrongdoers were not allowed to engage in congregation activities, but not shunned.
“… after having vainly endeavored to get the brother to repent and reform, it should withdraw special brotherly fellowship from him … the brother may merely be treated in the kindly, courteous way in which it would be proper for us to treat any publican or Gentile…..” Watchtower 1919 Mar 1 p.69
As late as 1947, excommunication or disfellowshipping was described as an unscriptural, pagan practice used to manipulate members.
Awake! 1947 Jan 8 p.27
In its current form, disfellowshipping results in strict shunning, to the extent of not even saying hello to family members.
“Thus “disfellowshiping” is what Jehovah’s Witnesses appropriately call the expelling and subsequent shunning of such an unrepentant wrongdoer. … … a simple “Hello” to someone can be the first step that develops into a conversation and maybe even a friendship. Would we want to take that first step with a disfellowshiped person?” Watchtower 1981 Sep 15 p.22, p.25
“Despite our pain of heart, we must avoid normal contact with a disfellowshipped family member by telephone, text messages, letters, e-mails, or social media.” Watchtower 2017 Oct p.16
“And all members of the congregation need to be determined to avoid the company of disfellowshipped individuals.” Watchtower 2011 Nov 15 p.5
Image Attribution: Watchtower simplified 2011 Jul 15 p.26
Watchtower Reasons for Disfellowshipping
The index to the 2019 Elder’s handbook “Shepherd the Flock of God” provides a convenient summary of reasons that can lead to being disfellowshipped.
Jesus is recorded at Luke 6:27-37 saying to love our enemies, be merciful and not to judge or condemn. At Matthew 18:15-17 he outlined treating sinners within the congregation as one of the nations. He set the example of eating with wrongdoers, tax collectors, and the Samaritans, scribes and Pharisees, people that would be considered apostates. He did not shun.
Diotrephes was reprimanded for attempting to throw people out of the congregation at 3 John 9-10.
Withholding association is only mentioned at 1 Corinthians 15 and 2 John 10, which refer to just the following areas; fornication, greed, idolatry, revilers, practicing drunkenness, extortion and not remaining in the teaching of the Christ. It is not a vast list such as created by the Watchtower.
The context of 1 Corinthians 15 is to limit socialising with wrongdoers, not strict shunning.
To insist that a disfellowshipped or disassociated person should not even be politely greeted, regardless of what the person was disfellowshipped for, Watchtower uses a single comment from 2 John 10, yet this Scripture is only discussing how to treat the Antichrist.
Many aspects of this practice violate the Bible.
A person can be disfellowshipped for practices never mentioned in the Bible, such as:
- Gambling – common throughout history, such as the casting of lots over Jesus clothing
- Use of Drugs such as marijuana – in common use in the first century
- Celebrations – Romans 14:1-18 specifically says not to judge anyone over the observance of days
- Oral and anal sex
- Blood transfusions
At Matthew 18:17, Jesus instructed that unresolved wrongdoing should be taken “to the congregation”, not a select committee of congregation leaders. In Israelite times, issues were discussed in public.
“The Bible regulations and accounts indicate that cases of wrongdoing came before the city elders at the gates primarily when controversies were involved, as in cases where an offender would not acknowledge having wronged another, and also when the community as a whole was seriously affected or endangered by the wrongdoing.” Watchtower 1976 Dec 1 p.732
Jehovah’s Witnesses that are accused of wrongdoing have to appear alone before a small group of elders, referred to as a Judicial Committee, a term that does not appear in the Bible. In flagrant disregard for the Bible, this is done is isolation.
“The witnesses should not hear details and testimony of other witnesses. Observers should not present for moral support. Recording should not be allowed.” Shepherd the Flock of God p.90
It is particularly disturbing that the Watchtower encourages children raised as Jehovah’s Witnesses to be baptised as minors, long before they are mature enough to comprehend that they are bound to Watchtower rules that can result in being shunned by their own parent for the remainder of their life.
Image attribution: Watchtower 2011 Jun 15 p.5
Watchtower claims disfellowshipping is loving, when it is the very opposite. It has led to the suicide of many thousands of people. Watchtower statistics show more than half of disfellowshipped people do not get reinstated, and it is estimated that over a million people raised as Jehovah’s Witnesses have been shunned by families and friends, some for decades.  This has a dramatic effect on a person, often at a time when they most need help from others.
Image attribution: Watchtower 2015 April 15 p.29
Jesus greatest command was to show love (Luke 10:27). Disfellowshipping aligns Jehovah’s Witnesses with high control religious and political extremists, invalidating any claim of love Watchtower attempts to make.