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Religious Tolerance logo

Jehovah's Witnesses (Watchtower Society; WTS)

The WTS' policy of disfellowshipping members

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Review:

As noted in our essay describing Watchtower Society (WTS) practices, the main methods to enforce membership discipline are:

  • Members may be reproved in private during a meeting with a committee of elders, who are all male. A public announcement may be later made to the congregation that they had been reproved and found to be repentant.

  • Members who are found guilty of serious violations of teachings and practices, and who refuse to repent, can be disfellowshipped by vote of a local committee of elders. This has the effect of severing the member from the organization. Regular members are then required to shun the disfellowshipped member. On the order of 1% of publishers are disfellowshipped yearly. Of these, about a third are eventually reinstated. 1

    Within seven days of the committee decision, a disfellowshipped person can appeal the decision in writing. 2

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For what activities can members be disfellowshipped?

According to The Center for Investigative Reporting, among activities that are not allowed and which could result in disfellowshipping are:

"... smoking, stealing, gambling, violence, gluttony, greed, idolatry, slander, drunkenness, drug use, voting [at government elections], military service, acceptance of blood transfusions, birthday or holiday celebrations, speech against the Jehovah’s Witnesses organization, and all sex except that between married heterosexual couples." 3

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A 1988 book published by the Watchtower Society stated that:

"Some of the offenses that could merit disfellowshipping from the Christian congregation are fornication, adultery, homosexuality, greed, extortion, thievery, lying, drunkenness, reviling, spiritism, murder, idolatry, apostasy, and the causing of divisions in the congregation." 4

The WTS emphasizes on its official Internet web site that when they condemn "homosexuality" it is only critical of same-gender sexual behavior. In common with the Roman Catholic Church, but unlike essentially all other conservative Christian denominations, the WTS appears to largely accept the findings of human sexuality researchers that sexual orientation is discovered, not chosen, and is fixed in adulthood, not changeable. An anonymous WTS author writes:

"The Bible doesn’t comment on the biology of homosexuals, although it acknowledges that some traits are deeply ingrained. Even if some are oriented toward the same sex, the Bible tells Christians to shun homosexual acts." 5

The reference to "shunning" appears to imply that the WTS accepts the conservative Christian interpretation of most or all of the six 'clobber passages" in Genesis 18, Leviticus 18, Leviticus 20, 1 Corinthians 6, Romans 1, etc. as condemning same-gender sexual acts.

The JWfacts.com web site lists some additional behaviors that might cause a member to be disfellowshipped:

  • Dating a married person who has not been legally divorced.

  • Rebellion against the Watchtower Society.

  • Promoting a faith group other than the Watchtower Society.

  • Freely associating with disfellowshipped people.

  • Dishonest business practices.

  • Working for a different religious organization, a gambling institution, a store that sells tobacco, or a company that does business with the military.

  • Infertile couples engaging in artificial insemination or surrogate motherhood.

  • Sexual abuse of children.

  • Loose conduct.

  • Disrespect of Kingdom Hall elders.

  • Practicing spiritism.

  • Practicing yoga.

  • Engaging in oral or anal sex, even by a married opposite-sex couple.

  • Viewing pornography.

  • Participating in interfaith activities.

  • Violent behavior, including professional boxing.

  • Accepting an organ transplant. (This is no longer viewed as a basis for disfellowshipping.)

An official publication of the Watchtower Society states that:

"Consistent with that understanding of matters, beginning in 1961 any who ignored the divine requirement, accepted blood transfusions, and manifested an unrepentant attitude were disfellowshipped from the congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses." 6

Webmaster's comment: (bias alert)

A member who is in a critical medical state, needs a blood transfusion, and would prefer to continue living might agree to the transfusion, accept being disfellowshipped, wait for a while, attempt to become repentant, go back to the committee of elders, and asked to be reinstated.

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How are Jehovah's Witness Publishers (members) required to treat disfellowshipped persons?

Fellow members are normally required to shun disfellowshipped persons completely by having no contact with them. This policy is partly based on two biblical passages: 1 Corinthians 5:11 and 2 John 9-11. 7 Members are not even allowed to say "hello" to a person that they know has been disfellowshipped.

However, if the disfellowshipped person is a family member living at home with the rest of their family, the group's official position is that:

"... loyal family members can no longer have spiritual fellowship with him [or her]. For example, they would not be allowed to participate in family worship. But other day-to-day family activities and dealings may continue." 7

The disfellowshipped family member is made to understand that their actions are disapproved of. There is no discussion about WTS matters in their presence:

"... if the disfellowshipped one is a minor child, the parents are still responsible to instruct and discipline him. Hence, loving parents may arrange to conduct a Bible study with the child. 7 

There are some reports that many families do not follow the official policy and totally shun their disfellowshipped member(s). 

If the disfellowshipped person is living outside their immediate family then contact is severely limited to dealing only with "... a necessary family matter."

Being disfellowshipped does not necessarily affect the relationship between the individual and God. Witnesses understand that sometimes humans make mistakes and accidentally disfellowship a member in error.

If a member is disfellowshipped and stops the offending behavior, they are not automatically reinstated. They must first repent of their past sins. Only then can they apply to their body of elders for reinstatement.

Disfellowshipped members are forbidden to attend Bible study meetings of the congregation or to preach door-to-door for the congregation. They may attend other meetings, but are required to sit at the back of the room.

Disfellowshipping can have a devastating effect on a person whose entire religious, family, and social support systems are grounded in the Society. In rare instances, it has led to profound depression and even suicide. However, the WTS's goals of disfellowshipping are sometimes achieved when the errant member repents and is reinstated back into the congregation.

According to the JWfacts.com web site:

"Once reinstated, more rules have been created to outline what activities they may participate in. Over time they will be allowed to resume field service, then answering at meetings, then giving talks. It will be several years before they finally are in line for privileges such as pioneering or being considered a Ministerial Servant." 1

At least a decade must pass after reinstatement before a disfellowshipped member is allowed to give a public talk.

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How you got here:

Home page > Christianity > DenominationsWitnesses> here

References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Paul Grundy, "Jehovah's Witness Statistics: 2013 Grand Totals," Facts About Jehovah's Witnesses, 2015-APR, at: http://www.jwfacts.com/
  2. "Jehovah's Witnesses and congregational discipline," Wikipedia, as on 2015-AUG-28, at: https://en.wikipedia.org/
  3. Trey Bundy, "Jehovah’s Witnesses cover up child sex abuse and oust a victim," The Center for Investigative Reporting, 2015-JUL-30, at: https://www.revealnews.org/

  4. book cover "Insight on the Scriptures, Vol. 1." Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, (1988). Page 788. Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store
  5. Anon, "How can I explain the Bible's view of homosexuality?" Awake, 2010-DEC. Online at: http://www.jw.org/

  6. book cover "Jehovah's Witnesses Proclaimers of God's Kingdom," Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, (1993). Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store
  7. "How to treat a disfellowshipped person," Jehovah's Witnesses, 2015, at: http://www.jw.org/

Copyright © 1996 to 2015 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Quotations taken from the JWfacts.com web site are used under a creative commons license.
Originally written on: 2015-NOV-06

Last updated on: 2015-NOV-06
Author: B.A. Robinson

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