Building a Life after Leaving a High-Control Religion

Amber Scorah’s “Leaving The Witness”

A good writer can hook and hold you from start to finish with a well-told story, which is definitely how to describe Amber Scorah’s new book, Leaving The Witness. However, it is much more than that, too. Amber’s memoir is both a heart-wrenching recollection and a riveting educational experience about the workings of institutionalized undue influence and the crisis one faces in even thinking about breaking free from a high-control religious group. In her case, this was a group whose eight million members, her friends and family included, hold their beliefs with absolute and exclusive certainty.

Amber articulates her past with generous clarity, and Leaving The Witness offers a smorgasbord of goodies for anyone searching for personal truth. Just a few of the poignant snippets from her transformational experience read as follows:

“It’s not the kind of religion that lets you walk away, because the people in it think that by walking away, you have lost your mind and interventions will bring you to your senses.”

“I was afraid of the book, Crisis of Conscience. To me … an alive thing, that its pages would creep out of the cover and slice me up, then throw me out onto the street, worldly and alone.”

“I had performed mental contortionism to reconcile the irreconcilable so that I could feel comfortable. I had been ‘in the truth’ because I was afraid of the truth.”

“Curiosity is a bad quality for the preacher. You preach because you are sure. You preach to people who don’t need to hear it, because possibly you are the one who needs to be saved.”

Amber Scorah

Amber Scorah

Amber summarizes her successful search for personal autonomy in the last paragraph of her memoir, penning an epiphany that Mark Twain would have championed for its content and style. It is one of those gems you can look forward to reading again and again, a parting gift to readers as the culmination of what will be a cherished account for others who have left similar environments and those who care about them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leaving the Witness on Amazon

Apostasy – A Must-See, Realistic Drama That Will Haunt You

The young woman looks directly at the three men sitting across from her. “You’re not policemen of my life,” she tells them.

“That’s not what we’re doing,” one of the men answers. And yet, in Apostasy, a haunting film by director Daniel Kokotajlo, the three men have told Luisa Whitling and her mother that they must not socialize with each other; to regain her position as a Jehovah’s Witness (and for her mother to keep her good standing with the organization), they must abstain from anything but “necessary” contact.

The reason? Luisa is pregnant – with the child of a “worldly” man, and out of wedlock. In the highly restrictive world of Jehovah’s Witnesses, this is a “disfellowshipping” offense – those who love her must pretend that she is not there. Continuing normal, “unnecessary” contact is also a disfellowshipping offense.

And so, Luisa is left alone. She is frightened, she is lonely, and she just wants her mother. But these elders, while insisting that they are not policing her, still use their influence, as the supposed guardians of their salvation, to keep mother and daughter apart.

The tragedy is palpable: Ivanna, the devout mother, loves both her daughters deeply, and yet she cannot bring herself to go against the religion which has become the center of her life. She readily believes that she and her daughters are only worthy of divine acceptance insofar as they can please Jehovah: “you need to earn His love; it’s conditional,” she tells her daughter Luisa in a tense scene. Her younger daughter, Alex, has also learned to think that she will never be good enough in the Creator’s eyes. In the girl’s prayers, she is constantly apologizing to Jehovah and comparing herself unfavorably to others – her low self-esteem earning her praise from the elders. Her self-esteem has been destroyed.

Director Kokotajlo highlights the Orwellian nature of the Watchtower in one particularly striking scene where the mother Ivanna, reeling from the enforced separation from her daughter, flees to the Kingdom Hall restroom, but finds no sanctuary there, as the built-in speaker broadcasts the continuing harangue from the platform: “If God was to say that this book is green, when it’s actually red,” the elder proclaims, “then maybe it is green. What do I really know? Such is His guidance.” Ivanna, trapped in her belief that these men speak for God, must believe that red is green – and that she must shun the daughter she loves, withdrawing all emotional support when both women need each other the most.

Hailed by many former Jehovah’s Witnesses as a frighteningly accurate picture of the control wielded by the Watchtower over their flock, Apostasy is also a brilliant demonstration of cinematic skill: shot in an ultra-realistic, “slice of life” style, with no musical soundtrack, the film nonetheless attains a dreamlike quality, with the actors often speaking their characters’ inner monologue in scene, without any voiceover – a stunning directorial choice which only deepens the sense of immersion in the story. The muted colors and somber scenery provide a fitting backdrop for this tragic story of love and loss.

Ultimately, however, it is the subject matter – and the heart-rending accuracy of the plot – that marks it as a “must-watch” for anyone who has ever known someone in a high-control group. I wholeheartedly recommend this film, but I also advise American viewers to turn on the subtitles if you are not used to British accents: you won’t want to miss a single word of this densely-packed, profound drama as it unfolds.

Editor's Note: While we at OMF value all free expression of opinion, the views expressed by our contributing authors are their own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of OMF, its board members, or trustees.

What do you think about this review? Do you agree? Have you watched Apostasy? Do you have a movie that you’d like to see us review? We’d love to hear from you! 

Why Is the Jehovah’s Witness Child Sex Abuse Scandal Different?

Child sexual abuse is absolutely terrible, and the institutional coverup of abuse makes it even worse. From churches to sports organizations, we have seen so many institutions silence abuse scandals to protect the group’s reputation. However, when the group concerned is a high-control, destructive cult, there are extra layers of coercion and lies involved – layers which most lawmakers and justice professionals neither understand nor recognize.

Many people do not even realize that the Jehovah’s Witnesses are a high-control group: most members of the public – judges and lawmakers included – think of them only as those “nice people” who go door-to-door offering “Bible studies”; pro-cult sociologists call them a “new religious movement”. When confronted with the covering up of sexual abuse by the Jehovah’s Witnesses (and other high-control organizations), these legal experts often make the mistake of treating the cases as they would one involving the Boy Scouts, the Methodist Church, or a sports club, when in fact, the organization they are dealing with is far less likely to cooperate with law enforcement. Mainstream religious groups have been reluctant to admit to abuse, but once that abuse has been exposed, many have done all that they can to expose the abusers. On his recent visit to Ireland, Pope Francis aligned himself with the victims of abuse, and has promised to do all that he can to root out this evil from the Catholic Church. This is not the attitude of the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

We must not minimize cases of abuse in groups that are not destructive cults, but there are many reasons why child sexual abuse coverups are different – and should be treated differently – when involving high-demand groups like the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Shunning

Jehovah’s Witnesses have a doctrine of ostracism or “shunning”, whereby contact and communication can be limited or even completely prohibited. Former members are often shunned by the entire congregation. Although the Watchtower’s lawyer recently managed to convince the Canadian Supreme court that “normal family relations” continue for those who are disfellowshipped, this is a base lie – the Watchtower’s internal propaganda films explicitly direct the faithful to engage in shunning. Anyone who speaks out about abuse risks isolation from their whole social group. They may well be cut off from their families, their friends, and their entire support system. In many cases, simply reporting the abuse to the proper authorities has become a disfellowshipping offence, meaning that parents have the Hobson’s choice of losing their community, or turning their backs on the needs of their children.

Predator-Enabling Policies

The “two witness” rule imposed by the Jehovah’s Witnesses – where a report of abuse is ignored if there is only one accuser – is the best-known, but abusive groups all employ a web of policies designed to keep the leadership and the followers in control – and to deny justice to those victimized by the wolves in the fold. The Mormons have come under fire for the battery of highly sexually charged questions asked of teenagers in closeted one-on-one sessions with bishops, and other groups use similar forms of interrogation designed to shame and confuse youth. Most high-demand groups have policies which explicitly forbid taking legal action of any kind against their fellow believers or the group, making it impossible to seek justice for any wrong done in the community.

Isolation from Society

High-control groups use a variety of methods to isolate their members: in the Jehovah’s Witnesses (as well as other destructive cults), members are conditioned to believe that those outside the group – especially law enforcement and social services – are controlled by Satan. This ensures that faithful members dare not think of reporting abuse to the authorities– or even realize that they have the right to do so. Additionally, those who leave the organization are viewed as apostates, not to be believed, and so past cases are dismissed as lies, even by those currently experiencing the same abuse.

Already Traumatized Children

Like many groups twisting Christian theology to wield control, the Jehovah’s Witnesses focus heavily on Armageddon or the “The Great Tribulation”, the final battle before Jesus returns to earth. Their literature is chock-full of violent images of destruction; children are taught that their schoolfriends, teachers, and even relatives not in good standing with the Watchtower will die in an excruciating holocaust of global chaos and destruction. Children suffering sexual abuse in such groups will have not only the trauma of the abuse, but an array of other phobias and emotional trauma to contend with.

Enculturated Guilt

When you’re a member of an abusive group, everything is your fault. It is not uncommon to hear from survivors of sexual abuse in the confines of a high-control group that they were made to feel as if they were the ones who had initiated the sexual contact, or that it happened because they were inherently sinful, or simply not a devout enough believer. Combined with the “usual” amount of shame experienced in such situations, this contributes to victims’ unwillingness to come forward.

Obedience as a Way of Life

Children raised in high-control groups are taught to obey without question or thought. In groups practicing “male headship”, a girl must obey the men of the group – no matter what is requested of her. Even without gender inequality, members of a destructive religious cult believe that their leaders are the ordained representatives of God, and to disobey them is to go against God’s will. Parents of abused children will be reluctant to act “against God”, and those who do go to the authorities will be wracked by guilt and paralyzed by fear, as they are now acting against everything they have been taught to believe and revere.

Zero Accountability

A predator never apologizes, and a destructive cult will never admit wrongdoing. While dozens of mainstream churches and other organizations are now admitting their guilt, apologizing to the victims, firing those responsible, and working to re-educate their officials, the leaders of abusive groups will never openly accept responsibility for the abuse or the cover-ups. They might pay millions in court costs, but, when talking to their members, they will still maintain that any reports of abuse are “apostate-driven lies,” and that the legal actions against them are the work of Satan.

Lack of Transparency

High-demand groups are notorious for their lack of transparency – recruits are not told what they will be expected to do, to sacrifice, or to believe until they work their way into the “inner circle” of believers. Many abusive groups, such as the Moonies, will claim that those just entering their group are not ready to receive the hidden “knowledge”, and compare telling new members the truth about the group’s more esoteric beliefs (such as Reverend Moon being the new Messiah) to feeding a baby a piece of steak, so they practice “heavenly deception”. Similarly, most destructive cults have a policy of lying to outsiders – particularly judicial and legal authorities – about the realities of group life. Because the “outside world” is controlled by Satan – or a conspiracy bent on destroying them – the leaders of groups like the Jehovah’s Witnesses have no problem lying in court – even under oath. They justify this by referring to the Biblical story of Rahab, who lied to protect Israelite spies.

In conclusion, the covering up of child sexual abuse in any setting is despicable. However, in the context of an abusive group, the depth and breadth of the coverup is magnified, with more complex layers of lies, phobia, guilt, and coercion covering any truth. It is imperative that judges, police, lawmakers, and others working to reveal the institutional coverups of sexual abuse understand that they will hear nothing resembling the truth from the representatives of a high-control, destructive cult.

For more information, check out our article on pedophile grooming, and Barbara Anderson’s book, Barbara Anderson Uncensored: Eyewitness To Deceit.

Editor's Note: While we at OMF value all free expression of opinion, the views expressed by our contributing authors are their own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of OMF, its board members, or trustees.

What do you think about this article? Do you agree? Do you have a story about covering up child abuse in a high-control group that you’d like to share? We’d love to hear from you! 

 

Finding Value in Isolation and Solitude When Shunned

For today’s post, we present an excerpt from SHUNNED: A Survival Guide by Bonnie Zieman, M.Ed.

 When being shunned it is only normal to wonder how you can survive being cut off, alone, and lonely – and how you can bring an end to this enforced aloneness. While your goal during the distress of being shunned is to heal from the abuse and make new connections, in your pain you may forget that periods of being alone and having nothing to do can have tremendous value.

Being alone is an opportunity to deepen your connection to self and to learn to feel at home in your own company. From this perspective, periods of solitude offer an opportunity to develop, grow, and create a more truthful, meaningful life for oneself.

Imposed solitude feels very different than periods of chosen solitude. While you may be experiencing a time of imposed solitude due to being shunned, you can change your relationship to this solitude by deciding to embrace the solitude and turn it to your advantage. Making this slight adjustment in how you view the solitude will change how being alone affects you. Recognize that the solitude is temporary and that you can choose to use it to deepen your connection with the most important relationship you will ever have – the relationship with yourself. Sometimes we just need to stop, be still, be alone, and do nothing, to allow the next part of our life to emerge.

Charles Eisenstein suggests that periods of solitude, periods when we have left the known and stand on the cusp of the unknown, allow us to develop a level of comfort in “the art of doing nothing”:

Doing nothing … is specific to the time when a story is ending and we enter the space between stories… It means freedom from reflexive doing: acting when it is time to act, not acting when it is not time to act. Action is thus aligned with the natural movement of things in service to that which wants to be born.”

Another term for this sacred, solitary, “in-between” state is “liminal space”. The word “liminal” comes from the Latin word “limin” which means “threshold”. When you are in liminal space, you are on the threshold of leaving “what was” and simultaneously on the verge of a new beginning which you have yet to enter – like standing on the threshold of a door – leaving one space and about to enter another. Because liminal space is neither here nor there – because it is on the threshold or on the cusp – it is full of possibility – and some call it sacred space.

If you were cast out of a community and have not yet stepped into your new life – you are standing in sacred liminal space. Liminal space is where you will transition from the old way of life to the new – from the old story that defined you to the new story you are about to create. You are on the threshold of really getting to know your authentic self and creating a life of your choosing. Don’t discount the importance of this.

Psychoanalytic political theorist at Medaille College, Matthew Bowker[1] says we often use our membership in groups to “define ourselves … and use others to fill out our identities”. He says that periods of selected solitude offer the opportunity and space to allow who we are, what we value, and how we want to live our life, to finally be born. What is more sacred than the birth of the new you?

Those of us who are being shunned by controlling groups will understand the need to rebirth, redefine, and reclaim our true self or authentic identity, apart from the group. This is best done when not bombarded or overwhelmed by the din of talking heads, idle inner chatter, or persistent striving.

Bowker also tells us the ability to be alone is “self-strengthening”. He continues:


“You have to have that capacity: the ability to know that you’re gonna survive, that you’re gonna be okay if you’re not supported by this group … Put another way, a person who can find a rich self-experience in a solitary state is far less likely to feel lonely when alone.”

There are psychological, emotional, spiritual, and creative benefits when one part of our story ends and we find we have a period of solitude and an opportunity to just do nothing. If, due to being cut off from family and friends, you now have to reorganize your life – time alone with nothing to do will be required. Adjust your perspective. Instead of viewing alone time as a punishment, see it for the gift it is!

You now have the opportunity to design and create a life and identity without the interference of the group. Decide which parts of the old you and the old story you value and want to keep, which parts were created as an accommodation to the group, and what qualities, values, principles, relationships, and goals you choose to develop and embrace now. Now, more than ever, we need our solitude. Being alone gives us the power to regulate and adjust our lives. It can teach us fortitude and the ability to satisfy our own needs. A restorer of energy, the stillness of alone experiences provides us with much-needed rest. It brings forth our longing to explore, our curiosity about the unknown, our will to be an individual, our hopes for freedom. Alone time is fuel for life.”  – Dr. Ester Buchholz

Editor's Note: While we at OMF value all free expression of opinion, the views expressed by our contributing authors are their own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of OMF, its board members, or trustees.

What do you think about this article? Do you agree? Do you have a story about shunning and solitude that you’d like to share? We’d love to hear from you! And check out Bonnie’s other books. She has written several books related to recovery after leaving coercive groups, including:

 

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[1]

https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2017/03/the-virtues-of-isolation/521100/

Standing Up to the Silent Treatment – A Review of “Shunned: A Survival Guide”

When a predatory pseudo-religious group demands that their members give you the silent treatment after you’ve abandoned their beliefs, it can really hurt. I should know, as I’ve experienced the distress of mandated shunning from my parents and siblings. Please see exhibit “A”, the essence of the message my mama sent me.

When the shunning started, I felt like I’d just been sucker punched in the pit of my stomach and the nagging ache would come and go at the most inopportune times.

Going back in time to 1964, at age 20, I walked away from my family’s utopian beliefs as Jehovah’s Witnesses, with their many rules and restrictions. I made my escape after spending 2 years at the world headquarters for JWs in Brooklyn, NY.

After leaving, my parents, siblings and JWs that I knew treated me with tolerable respect for the next 17 years. But in 1981, shunning was mandated for the first time from headquarters toward people like me. It was a manifestation of Watchtower’s undue influence and framed <gag> as an act of love for me and their god Jehovah.

Had I known in advance how the-pretending-you-don’t-exist experience would affect me, I would have learned more about emotional blackmail. For some people, the debilitating pain from shunning can last a lifetime, when not wisely addressed.

If only we had been able to read Bonnie Zieman’s new book, Shunned: A Survival Guide. In this superbly written easy-to-understand exposé, she elucidates on how our nervous system can and will react to this inhumane experience with the fight, flight or freeze response. While it didn’t happen to me, some victims are catapulted into a state of chronic alarm, even contemplating and committing suicide.

In her ground-breaking book, Bonnie meticulously explains how a person can manage the isolation, loneliness and grief caused by shunning. Not only how to cope with this cruel punishment, but how, if necessary, to rebuild a meaningful life after mandated desertion and repudiation by all of one’s family and close friends.

If you are being shunned, are terrified about the thought of being ostracized, know someone who is being disconnected, or are curious about this method of blackmail, you will be rewarded by reading this book. For me, the highlights of the read were:

– What not to do when being shunned
– How to deal with people who shun you
– How to manage the worst effects of shunning
– How to bounce back from cult dehumanization
– The need for finding a friend like Bonnie’s Mary
– The magic and menace of our brain’s mirror neurons
– How a brain can rewire itself after a traumatic experience
– Strategies and brilliant research on how to activate the ventral vagus nerve

Bonnie’s book is much more than an outstanding recovery guidebook. She makes a strong case for why we need to enforce and change laws about mandated shunning from predatory groups. This form of undue influence must be stopped now!

PS – I prepared the title and opening remarks for this blog to grab your attention. My only concern about using the words the silent treatment is that shunning is much more than that. For someone being shunned, they may well think: “I’m going through much more than the silent treatment. I have been erased, demonized, considered dead, abandoned, deserted, etc. etc.” If you’re that person, I want to apologize, because you’re absolutely right.

What do you think about this article? Do you agree? Have you read any of Bonnie’s books? Have you read Dick’s Mama’s Club trilogy? Do you have a story about shunning that you’d like to share? We’d love to hear from you! 

 

Child Abuse Inquiry Considering Separate Investigation of Jehovah’s Witnesses

According to a recent article in The Guardian, the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA), which is examining the problem of institutions in England and Wales failing to protect children from sexual abuse, is considering opening a separate investigation into the Jehovah’s Witnesses. The UK panel has heard reports from a “considerable number” of concerned citizens and members of Parliament about the organization.

The issue which sets the Jehovah’s Witnesses apart from the other institutions the Panel is currently examining is not the number of reports, but the clear picture the reports present: the Jehovah’s Witness organization, despite its protestations of “robust child protection policies,” uses threats of disfellowshipping and shunning to keep victims from reporting abuse.

We hope that the panel, if it does decide to investigate, will shed valuable light on the policies and practices of the organization, and further the protection of children from sexual predators in the Kingdom Halls of Great Britain and worldwide.

What do you think about this article? Do you agree? Do you have a story about child sexual abuse that you’d like to share? We’d love to hear from you! 

Shunning and Suicide in the Jehovah’s Witnesses: Alienation’s Deadly Toll

Shunning, one of the most abusive practice of high-pressure groups, is often the most obvious sign that a group is abusive. It tears families and communities apart, forcing many to choose between their faith and their loved ones. Whether it is called Shunning, Disconnection, Ostracism, or De-FOOing, the harsh reality of alienation ensures that those who leave the group are cut off absolutely, often losing their entire community – friends, relatives, and their complete support system.

For one woman in Michigan who had left the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the strain of losing her community was too much, and, struggling under the weight of the shame her abusers had taught her to assume, she drowned the family dog and shot her husband and two adult children, before turning the gun on herself. According to family friends, Lauren Stuart and her husband had left the organization because their children wished to attend college – something the Jehovah’s Witnesses strongly discourage – and she wished to pursue a modeling career. Because she could no longer be a member of the group in good standing, former friends ignored her, looking the other way when seeing her in town, refusing to speak with her or acknowledge her presence. In a small community, such treatment can make life intolerable, and although the Jehovah’s Witnesses have claimed in court that shunning is a “personal choice” and never absolute, their own internal convention videos show a harsh reality, where parents are coached to ignore their own children if they are disfellowshipped.

Although details in this case are still forthcoming, it is clear that such tragedies will continue to happen whenever people are shunned: this is not the first incident of a Jehovah’s Witnesses committing a murder-suicide in reaction to shunning: in 2001, Christian Longo murdered his wife and three young children in response to his expulsion from the Jehovah’s Witnesses, and in 2014, another Jehovah’s Witness father in South Carolina murdered his wife and children before committing suicide. Sadly, the Watchtower is not the only organization that practices this most cruel form of undue influence.

Our friends Robin and Mike of What’s Up Watchtower, themselves ex-Jehovah’s Witnesses, have produced an excellent video discussing the case in depth; it is a deeply personal subject for them, as they have lost their own families to the evil practice of shunning. Also, our friends JT and Lady Cee of Ex-JW Critical Thinker have interviewed Joyce Taylor, a close personal friend of the Stuart family, herself a former member of the group. Both videos are thoughtfully done and provide compelling listening.

At Open Minds, we believe that all people should be able to practice the faith of their choice, or not practice, as their own conscience and beliefs dictate – without the threat of losing their friends, their family, and their community.

What do you think about this article? Do you agree? Do you have a story about shunning that you’d like to share? We’d love to hear from you! 

Canada’s Supreme Court Hears Only Half the Truth on Shunning

Canada’s Supreme Court is hearing only half the truth on Watchtower’s policy of shunning, receiving a highly sanitized and deliberately inaccurate representation of this coercive practice from the Watchtower’s lawyer. As Clement Mabunda, the Thinking Witness, reports in a recent article, Jehovah’s Witness Elder and lawyer David Gnam, is well aware that the actual practice of shunning is much different from the relatively benign experience that he is painting for the judges.

Gnam’s assertion before the court is that the practice of disfellowshipping is not all-encompassing, but merely a spiritual practice. He even purports that “normal family relations continue.”

Everyone who has seen the Watchtower’s internal policies and propaganda films on shunning are well aware that family members are urged to cease all communication with those who are disfellowshipped. This is further compounded with the threat of being disfellowshipped – and thus shunned – if the member does not comply.

theocratic warfareGnam’s duplicity, while falling short of actual perjury, is a sad illustration of an oft-used tool of coercive control. Lying to external authorities in order to benefit the interests of a manipulative organization is called “theocratic warfare” by Jehovah’s Witnesses. Yes, when JWs are called upon to defend the indefensible – such as tearing a family apart – they will only speak half-truths.

Here is Clement Mabunda’s article in full.

What do you think about this article? Do you agree?  Do you have a story about “theocratic warfare” that you’d like to share? We’d love to hear from you! 

In Loving Memory of Laura Ann Gracey – A Father Remembers

My darling daughter Laura Ann Gracey was born on July 17th, 1972, in Orange, California. My wife Deborah and I, life-long Jehovah’s Witnesses, had been married just two years. At the time, I was a Regular Pioneer and a Ministerial servant in the Buena Park California Congregation. Deborah had just been made a Regular Pioneer, but had to decline the appointment due to illness stemming from her pregnancy.

We raised Laura and our two younger children as devout Jehovah’s Witnesses. Laura was a happy and sweet young girl, but she could never bring herself to commit to the religion of her birth and be baptized. She left home at 17, and married a young school friend, who was outside the faith. The marriage did not last long: after their divorce, she lived a confused and troubled life until she was in her early 30’s, when she chose to revisit her roots and began studying with the Witnesses again. After several difficult years, she was baptized at age 33, and seemed happy and content at last – or so it seemed to me.

Over the next four years, she was disfellowshipped and reinstated twice, for violations of Watchtower policy, the last time in late 2009. When a Jehovah’s Witness is disfellowshipped, no active member – whether family or not – can speak to her until she is reinstated; our family did not observe this policy and kept in contact with her, disfellowshipped or not.

Laura Always felt the need to confess her sins and shortcomings; it appeared to cleanse her conscience, and make her feel better. So, it was not a surprise to the Elders of her congregation, when she called them, asking to talk. On the night of Jan 7, 2010, they met with her in her new apartment, in a complex filled exclusively with other Jehovah’s Witnesses.

The next morning, her next-door neighbor spotted her on the floor in front of the TV; there was food spilled all over, and she seemed to be unconscious. However, the neighbor (who related these details to me at the funeral) did not investigate further, even though she had an appointment to go with Laura in field service that Saturday morning. The next morning, this same sister, who was scheduled to take her to a meeting, saw her in the same position, but did not intervene, even though Laura remained motionless through to Monday morning: it was not until later that day that someone finally called the police, and the paramedics pronounced Laura dead at the scene, from a massive overdose of prescription medications. The autopsy determined that the time of death was 5 pm Monday; she had been alive – and presumably able to be resuscitated – for over two and a half days, with her neighbors aware of her situation, but doing nothing to save her.

What happened at her final meeting with the Elders is unknown. The only thing they ever told me, her father, was that when they left, she seemed “fine.” We will never know what happened to Laura, or what caused her to take her own life. The conclusion we as a family came to at the time was that she just could not live up to the demands of the Jehovah’s Witness, and so “checked out.”

Was she another victim of the Watchtower’s policies of shunning and unrealistic expectations? Did she feel that she could not please Jehovah and her family by being a member of their religion? What did the Elders say to her and how did Laura feel, once they had left? What was she thinking as she took that massive dose of pills and waited for death to come? Did she change her mind? Was she thinking of her family?

We will never know. Her mother died eleven months later, of complications due to a pending surgery. I miss Laura every day of my life, as does the rest of the family. Because of the madness of this supposed religion and its policy of disfellowshipping, shunning, and supposedly “keeping the congregation clean of wicked influence,” tragedies like Laura’s will continue to affect the lives of millions around the world.

That is exactly why I have chosen to tell her story.

If you are shunning someone, please take a minute to ask yourself if this is what God really wants. The Governing Body wants it, and they say is for your own good. But ask yourself: how does that shunned family member feel? If you are shunning your child or parent, please don’t ignore your natural familial attachments and love for your family, holding back and while their love for you grows cold. Love them now while you can: wish them Happy Birthday, or Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. We have only so many years on this planet, so we must use them wisely.

Shunning is a violation of the fundamental human rights of freedom of association and freedom of speech. It is often profoundly traumatic to those who are treated in this inhumane and callous way.

Believe what you want, worship freely, practice your religion, but please don’t shun your family, because someday, it will be too late to say: “I love you.”

Editor's Note: While we at OMF value all free expression of opinion, the views expressed by our contributing authors are their own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of OMF, its board members, or trustees.

What do you think about this article? Do you agree?  Do you have a story about shunning or disconnection that you’d like to share? We’d love to hear from you! 

Shunning in the Jehovah’s Witnesses – the BBC Takes A Hard Look

The cruel practice of shunning – ignoring a family member or friend on the orders of a group – is a surefire marker of an abusive group or situation. And yet, the Jehovah’s Witness organization persists in using this harmful method of undue influence to emotionally blackmail their adherents to stay in the bubble-world of their organization.

In this insightful article from the BBC, survivors discuss how they have been alienated from their families – one young woman brutally thrown out of her home by her own father – for being “wicked” in the eyes of the organization. According to a representative of the Watchtower quoted in the article, a member of their group is to be shunned if he or she: “makes a practice of breaking the Bible’s moral code, and does not given evidence of stopping the practice.”

But according to their policies, these criteria apply to a woman not willing to continue living with an abusive husband; many former Jehovah’s Witness women tell of how they have been shunned by their families, simply for divorcing an abusive spouse. In this group, where “male headship” is one of their policies, a woman cannot divorce her husband unless either of them has engaged in adultery and is not sufficiently “repentant.” And, although, according to the same Watchtower representative: “violence … is strongly condemned in the Bible and has no place in a Christian family”, survivor groups are full of women who, when they were beaten by their husbands, report being  counseled by elders merely to be “better, more obedient wives,” with absolutely no action taken by those elders against the abusive spouse.

Shunning is also the inevitable fate for those who are homosexual, those who accept certain kinds of blood transfusions in order to save their lives, and anyone who thinks to question the policies of the Watchtower, or, indeed, dares to question whether or not the Governing Body who dictates these rules is, as they claim, the sole voice of God on Earth.

When an organization can hold the power of life and death over its members and even tear apart their families for the “crime” of disbelief, then, no matter what its purported views, it is a destructive, abusive group.

Editor's Note: While we at OMF value all free expression of opinion, the views expressed by our contributing authors are their own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of OMF, its board members, or trustees.

What do you think about this article? Do you agree?  Do you have a story about shunning that you’d like to share? We’d love to hear from you! 

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