Unconditional love has always been an impossible dream.
For me, an ex-Jehovah’s Witness, some of the most important people in my life loved me on an “if-then” basis.
IF you don’t celebrate holidays, THEN you are loved.
IF you watch a supernatural movie, THEN you are not.
There are many more examples of sin that I could spend an entire day listing, but that’s not what this article is about. For me, growing up, unconditional love didn’t exist. Constantly under surveillance, by everyone who is supposed to care about you. Life is filled with a dreadful paranoia that is insurmountable to any fear I have felt outside of this old life. If you sin, especially as a baptized person, you are cast away. God hates you, your family hates you, you have to beg for your forgiveness, or risk never speaking to your family again. The worst part, is that they will forget you ever existed. Sorry, my mistake, they: “Hate the sin, not the sinner.“
Or something like that.
What exactly is it?
There are a lot of moving parts that go into the incredibly political decision to have someone disfellowshipped. But the cut and dry of it is:
You do something bad, you get shunned.
There are a myriad of reasons someone can get disfellowshipped. Sins ranging from saying a cuss word at the meeting, all the way up to murder. Now don’t misunderstand, murder is wrong in the majority of circumstances, of course it is. I would probably shun a murderer on any circumstance. But let’s draw our attention towards the gray areas. Because that’s where it gets bad, and interesting.
Let me explain a common situation to help you fully understand the politics of what disfellowshipping is.
Imagine you’re eighteen years old, and you decide to get baptized. In the Jehovah’s Witnesses this is one of the most important steps anyone can take in their “service to Jehovah.” I, personally, cannot explain what that experience is like, I left far before ever thinking about getting baptized. But I knew many who were. Your family rejoices, you’ve felt more love than you ever have in your life, because you finally did it! You’re in! Part of the club, if you will.
You have a little party, and everything is going well.
Then you realize you want to go to college.
Now, this isn’t a sin necessarily. It’s just intensely “frowned upon.” Many Jehovah’s Witnesses home-school their kids to avoid worldly association, but you want to willingly go and spend more time with “sinful people?”
Oh boy. Time to put you on the list.
I still don’t know if this was a literal list or not, but every congregation had a mental awareness of who was “in danger” in their congregation. (I was always on that list, because my parents were divorced) “In danger” meant that everyone knew that you were going to be a sinner, and if baptized, you were going to get disfellowshipped at some point; just not yet. So you continue your process of applying for college, no help from anyone else at this point, but no outspoken opposition either. You have no idea that a storm is brewing.
You get into college, and are very happy, you’ve been wanting to learn more about your favorite subject for a long time. A very innocent endeavor in your mind: “I’m not hurting Jehovah’s feelings, I just want to learn. Maybe get a job that pays a little more.” The next day, three of the congregation’s most respected elders show up at your house. Tuxedo’s fitted tightly, and Bible’s in hand,
“We’re worried about you.”
You sit through a densely packed (and quite frankly, awkward) “attack” on your mind, body, and soul. They read through multiple scriptures, explaining what happened to people in the Bible who had worldly associations. Examples could be this, this, this, or this. All of a sudden you’re, silently, under intense surveillance. When all you’re trying to do is go to college.
Fast forward, and you’re in your dorm room. You’ve still been finding time to go to the meetings (church gatherings) in between all the schoolwork, but you’ve fallen in love with your roommate. They were always very nice to you, and they were a good person in your eyes. Your relationship progresses, as a young relationship normally would.
You tell your parents.
They tell the elders.
You get disfellowshipped.
Now you’re on your own.
And the process feels just as abrupt as the end of this story. You explained that you loved this person, but it didn’t matter: because they didn’t want to become a part of Jehovah’s Organization. Now you’re all alone, your entire “support system” has been ripped out from under your feet. Your parents wont talk to you. Your friends aren’t replying. The family you once knew doesn’t even speak of you anymore.
They strongly believe it is an act of love.
I saw hundreds of sad, attacked, guilt-ed people sitting alone in the back of our meeting halls. Wishing they could ask their mom for comfort, but the only time they get to even see them is at the meeting. Wishing they could talk about their depression, but getting shut out. All of them feeling pushed to their limit, and never feeling more hated in their whole life, wishing they could take it all back… Just so they can feel the love of their family again.
Don’t get me wrong, many Jehovah’s Witnesses that I have met truly believe that they are doing the right thing. They would never hurt anyone willingly. It is a brainwashing to a degree that I have only seen in very few other places. In their eyes, no matter what your sin was, if you are disfellowshipped, they treat it like you died.
When I was a part of this, they would make the announcement on Sundays, and people would cry. Cry intense tears of sorrow. They believed it was out of their control, they wish they could speak to them; but they can’t. This system ruined hundreds of families, just in the time that I was a part of this cult.
Does it get better?
I know multiple people who were disfellowshipped multiple times, and still came back each time. Even when this person has repented, and begged for forgiveness, when they get back in: it’s not the same. Their sin is never forgotten. Everyone in the congregation speaks kindly, like automated robots. Repeating the same message over and over again, then gossiping behind closed doors. You may be allowed to speak to everyone now, even comment at the meetings! But you will always be seen as the one who f*cked up.
Though I was never formally disfellowshipped, since I was never formally baptized. I know this pain, all too well. Your family mourns your death, but you’re alive and needing their love now, more than ever.
I didn’t go back.
People are still going back to the Organization. Because they feel as though they have no other way to survive. No other purpose. These are the people I am trying to reach with this story. It’s an attempt at sending out a signal of hope. You don’t have to life your life this way. You don’t have to prove that you’re good, because you are good. You should be shown love, and you are deserving of it.
And this is a message to everyone: be loving towards each other. For many people, it’s not a given.
One kind gesture can make mountains move.