On the topic of how Jehovah’s Witnesses divide families, from the “Ask a Former JW” mailbag:
Basically, the whole of my mothers side of my family are JW’s. She was disfellowshipped when she was around 18-19 but wasn’t told then that she was not supposed to talk to people who were still members of the religion. Since then she was married to my father who was not a JW, had me and my brother and sister, then was divorced from my father.
Around 3-4 years ago my mother was approached by my aunt, who is still a member, and was told then that she was no longer allowed to see or have any communication with my cousins and the rest of the family who were still members.
I was just wandering if, what had happened, was right to have happened? if these JW “rules of life” permit such things? My mother has had difficulty speaking to ANY of her family since that day, and it doesn’t feel like any sort of religion should warrant that sort of treatment. Any info you may have would be extremely helpful.
Dear Sami –
I completely agree with you that the dynamic here is wrong, unethical, and lacking in compassion, kindness, or family love.
Unfortunately for former-JWs (and for non-JW family members who are affected by it), this treatment is very common and even encouraged. Former JWs are considered to be even worse than “worldly associations.” Disfellowshipped Jehovah’s Witnesses are described in the harshest of terms, no matter what the reasons were for leaving the group. The same treatment applies to anyone who is disfellowshipped, whether it was for murder, rape, homosexual acts, being a whistleblower, asking pointed questions, having a less than submissive attitude toward elders and policies, or even smoking a cigarette.
Jehovah’s Witnesses are strongly encouraged, using several methods of “spiritual guidance,” to be loyal to the organization first. For some, that loyalty is even stronger than their feeling for God. The Watchtower Society and its affiliated corporations are very controlling and authoritarian – even totalitarian. They motivate with fear.
Unfortunately, your family members (like many, many others) prioritize the shaky biblical interpretations of a dozen men in New York over their connection to your mother. She has been demonized in their regard; they hold her in contempt. Her family may even fear that she is somehow contagious, or a contaminant or toxin (actually, this whole view of otherness and evil, along with their views on blood transfusions, first got me interested in the topics of my PhD dissertation).
The bottom line is that JWs will tend to err on the side of caution when following the directives of the Watchtower Society. Anything that they believe may potentially interfere with their reward of “everlasting life on paradise earth” (once the Jehovah-God very shortly destroys this “system of things”) is to be avoided… at all costs. They entirely miss the Christian message.
Just a sampling of some of the messages the family would have received (instead of ones which might emphasize love and forgiveness and grace):
“We must hate [the disfellowshipped person] in the truest sense, which is to regard with extreme active aversion, to consider [the disfellowshipped person] as loathsome, odious, filthy, to detest.”
Watchtower 10/1/1952 (p 599)
“In the case of the disfellowshipped relative who does not live in the same home, contact with him is also kept to what is absolutely necessary. As with secular employment, this contact is limited and even curtailed completely if at all possible. We should not see how close we can get to relatives who are disfellowshipped from Jehovah’s organization, but we should ‘quit mixing in company’ with them.
What if a person cut off from God’s congregation unexpectedly visits dedicated relatives? What should the Christian do then? If this is the first occurrence of such visit, the dedicated Christian can, if his conscience permits, carry on family courtesies on that particular occasion. However, if his conscience does not permit, he is under no obligation to do so. If courtesies are extended, though, the Christian should make it clear that this will not be made a regular practice. . . . The excommunicated relative should be made to realize that his visits are not now welcomed as they were previously when he was walking correctly with Jehovah.”
Watchtower 7/15/63 (pp.443-44)
“And we all know from our experience over the years that 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 disfellowshipped person?”
Watchtower 1/15/81 (“If a Relative is Disfellowshipped,” p. 26-31)
“Such ones willfully abandoning the Christian congregation thereby become part of the ‘antichrist.’ (1 John 2:18,19)”
“Former friends and relatives might hope that a disfellowshipped one would return; yet out of respect for the command at 1 Corinthians 5:11, they do not associate with an expelled person.”
“Why is it loving to expel an unrepentant wrongdoer from the congregation? Doing so is an expression of love for Jehovah and his ways. (Psalm 97:10) This action shows love for those pursuing a righteous course because it removes from their midst one who could exercise a bad influence on them. It also protects the purity of the congregation.”
“Sometimes Christian parents have accepted back into their home for a time a disfellowshipped child who has become physically or emotionally ill. But in each case the parents can weigh the individual circumstances. Will he bring ‘leaven’ into the home?”
Our Kingdom Ministry 2/2002
The destructive ways that JWs affect the larger dynamics of family are evident in testimonies, divorce case papers, and the news. Google some likely phrases, and you will have no problem finding material (see my JW-related links page). Here are just a handful:
Couple’s faith tested
The Yarmouth Mercury, UK/September 28, 2006
By Miles Jermy
Witnesses cost me my family
Halifax Herald (Canada), February 13, 2000
By Susan LeBlanc
Cast out: Religious shunning provides an unusual background in the Longo and Bryant slayings
The Register-Guard/March 2, 2003
By Karen McCowan
Jehovah’s Witnesses: A Threat To The Social Family Fabric by Victor Escalante