Monday, March 1, 2010

You're okay --- I'm not so bad, either.

Disfellowshipped Witnesses often face community rejection at a time when they need their friends and family the most.

Posted by Joel Gunz

If you have been disfellowshipped from the Jehovah's Witnesses, you probably already know that you are just one of many. Last year, an estimated 60,000 Witnesses willingly agreed to meet with a judicial committee of at least three elders to confess their sins in detail. An hour or two later, they were disfellowshipped and dismissed from the Kingdom Hall without a word.

True, there are bad people in the world, and any religious group has a right to keep its place of worship safe. It must be recognized that there is even a Biblical basis for doing so. (Of course, the word "disfellowshipping" doesn't appear in the Bible. Microsoft Word's spellcheck feature doesn't even recognize it.) That said, in the Bible, there is exactly one case of wrongdoing mentioned that resulted in disfellowshipping. It is the case of a man in Corinth who was carrying on an apparently incestuous relationship, in public, with his stepmother (1 Cor. 5). By any measure that's a socially unacceptable situation.

Jehovah's Witness' application of that rule is, by comparison, frivolous. Young people are frequently expelled for what basically amounts to acting their age. Others might have a real personal struggle, such as an addiction. While most churches see this as an opportunity to imitate Jesus by offering help, perhaps by hosting 12-Step meetings, the Jehovah's Witnesses use it a basis for shunning.

The Witnesses insist that they disfellowship only unrepentant wrongdoers. But isn't an individual's voluntary participation in the judicial process a sign of repentance enough? If submitting to an embarrassingly intrusive inquest, followed by a humble request for forgiveness and spiritual help isn't a clear sign of remorse and repentance, then what is? Obviously, their biggest mistake was to trust a group of elders to handle with common sense the revelation that they have been less than perfect. The point is, most of my friends who are also disfellowshippees are good, trustworthy people, inclined to do the right thing.

My point isn't to question the rightness of Watchtower policy. As a religion, they have a Constitutional right to do just about whatever they want. It's been my observation, though, that many ex-Witnesses are really good people. While they might have committed what the Bible calls "sin," their behavior was, in most cases, a far cry from the scandalous behavior described in 1 Corinthians. (And, by the way, let's get real: if the Bible's prohibition against lying was applied with the same force as fornication, how many Witnesses would escape being disfellowshipped?) Some of these people are still in their teens -- energetic, bright, socially engaged individuals of whom any normal parent would be proud. Instead, their parents view them as a source of shame.

That's why, if you have left the Jehovah's Witnesses or are considering leaving, you can take comfort in the fact that there are people nearby who can provide you with an emotionally safe place to land in your post-Witness life. They're good people who've been where you are and who care. To get in touch, feel free to email me at theadguy123 (at) yahoo (dot) com, or visit the Portland, Oregon ex-Jehovah's Witnesses Meetup group.

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