Extreme Shunning
Aug 02, 2013 | 7666 views | 36 36 comments | 16 16 recommendations | email to a friend | print

It’s Time to Outlaw Extreme Shunning in Modern Society

By: Richard E. Kelly

The January 15th issue of The Watchtower magazine leaves no doubt about how Jehovah’s Witnesses should treat family members who have been “disfellowshipped,” or ex-communicated, from the religion.

“Really, what your beloved family member needs to see is your resolute stance to put Jehovah above everything else – including the family bond,” warns the magazine on page 16, before asserting, “Do not look for excuses to associate with a disfellowshipped family member, for example, through e-mail.”

Jehovah’s Witness is not the only religion that calls upon its followers to ostracize anyone who leaves the faith. Described as psychological torture by University of California-Davis Professor Almerindo E. Ojeda, such social rejection is used in the United States by Anabaptists (the Amish, Mennonites, Hutterites), Scientology, and the Baha’i Faith, among others. Some contemporary evangelical Protestant churches have renewed the practice of shunning, as in the case of a 71-year-old former Sunday school teacher who was arrested on trespassing charges after questioning her pastor’s authority.

The practice can have devastating consequences.

In 2011, Eric Reeder was disfellowshipped from the Jehovah’s Witnesses after sustaining injuries in a motorcycle accident that led to a blood transfusion – a medical treatment prohibited by the religion.  His family subsequently shunned him in accordance with the faith’s rules.

Eric posted about his predicament in an online forum for ex-Witnesses in August of that year, admitting, “The only thing I am really going to miss is my folks ... my dad is a hardcore elder and has told me he will no longer be able to speak to me 100% of the time.”

In April 2012 he wrote that he was “still not used to my parents totally shunning me …” before adding, “It’s so hard ... nobody should have to lose their parents twice.”

By the end of September, Eric was found dead at age 51. He had killed himself.

Nobody can be certain what dark thoughts were swirling through Eric’s mind when he took his own life, or what finally drove him to such a desperate act. But we do know that in the preceding months, Eric was deeply tormented by the ostracism inflicted on him by members of his family.

While The Watchtower Society, the name of the legal entity used by Jehovah’s Witnesses, proudly publishes annual statistics related to its worldwide evangelism work, there are no official figures for those who are shunned, and no way to confirm how many of these former members, like Eric, feel desperate enough to take their own lives. However, one can find a great deal of anecdotal evidence on Internet forums frequented by Ex-Witnesses. One well-known researcher, Terri O’Sullivan, reported that being shunned worsens one’s mood within 60 seconds.

In the absence of any popular or political impetus to address the issue of religion-incited shunning, I am proud to be part of an organization that dares to face it head on. Advocates for Awareness of Watchtower Abuses (AAWA) has been established to educate the world via its website (www.aawa.co) about some of Watchtower’s most shocking practices.

While these are often pardoned in the name of religious freedom, there are instances where governments have successfully sanctioned extreme shunning:

“The Jewish tradition frequently confronted this issue in the many Eastern European communities where the government outlawed the use of excommunication and shunning. Not surprisingly, when confronted with significant governmentally imposed sanctions against this practice, the Jewish authorities ceased using exclusion as a method of community formation or maintenance,” states an article by Michael J. Broyde, academic director of Emory University’s Law and Religion Program.

My colleagues and I believe that the shunning of relatives and friends represents mental and emotional abuse. Modern society must no longer allow Watchtower to promote this barbarous practice through printed word or otherwise. 

About Richard E. Kelly: Richard E. Kelly is the Managing Director of AAWA and the author of Growing Up in Mama’s Club: A Childhood Perspective of Jehovah’s Witnesses and The Ghosts from Mama’s Club. The retired former president of a Michigan manufacturing company, Kelly was raised as a member of Jehovah’s Witnesses, and left the faith at age 20.

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Angelawr
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September 04, 2013
This is incredible. I was raised in the organization and left after 35 years. You realize that unless you are strong that you wont survive outside those walls. I began to relize too, why 7 of my friends had taken their own lives in 20 years shortly after leaving the organization or being DF'd.

The shunning process is brutal and abusive and it is meant to not only control those who shunners but to have total mind and heart control on those who are shunned.

You are put in an extreme place of being dismissed from the only life, friends and family you have ever been ALLOWED to know and thrust into the world.. a cruel world as you have always been taught.

Sucide seems like the only option, especially if you beg to be let back in, to be forgiven, but it doesnt happen.

The Organization should be help accountable for every human who takes their own life due to being shunned and they should be held accontable for the families it ruins and the years it steals from people.

I implore anyone who has been DF'd or who has simply had doubts and walked away... Be strong, seek counseling if you need too, slowly make new friends and seek out groups where people have been in your shoes.

Do not let the organization win! Stand strong, it will hurt sometimes, it will feel hopeless sometimes..

But once you reach the peek you will feel a life and happiness that you would have never ever known staying inside.

I have been out 8 years now.. I have built a whole new life, and it feels amazing.

I weep for the friends I have lost due to sucide and I weep for the family that chooses this organization over me.

But my life is fulfilled, happy and I feel blessed that I was stong enough to make it out ... literally.. ALIVE
i.lecca
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August 28, 2013
Hi Michele Smith TN…this is a very feeling related topic for me. I read your short comment about ‘shunning’. As you said God is forgiving but not the people are not and the one on ‘charge’ of the religious institutions are men and (women??) like us.

You advance the ‘possibility’ that some religions (JW??) they teach very well Bible. Well, Michele let’s face it… you are a good ‘driver’ only if you obey closely the road rules.

The ‘Spirit’ of the Bible about ‘disfeloshiping’ someone, is just stopping associating with him. It must be clear that the disfeloshiped one is not more one JW, especially for the rest of associated. This step is the fulfillment of someone which does not recognize his wrongs.

At my view point I don’t recall ‘ever’ ‘official instructions’ in order to ostracize some individual was given by the Watchtower, never at my knowledge. Yet do JW practice ostracism in individual or small groups’ basis? Yes they do….unfortunately yes and because them we all associate the whole association of JW.

Is hard to say but the WT Magazine July 15 2012 page 13 stated’..All members of the Congregation they are not necessarily good frequentations.. .’

Michelle_SmithTN
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August 21, 2013
I think any religion practice that "shuns" when we have a forgiving God, is not practicing the Bible. We are supposed to be there as support and love each other, and teach. It is really hard to see some religions who teach the Bible so well, turn around and do such harmful things.
i.lecca
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August 04, 2013
I think we wrote lots of things about shunning, the final point is JW are instructed to ‘not be part of the world’ (our common society…) and most of time they only associate among themselves. The only ‘profane’ worldly contact allowed is to have a ‘reasonable’ job. All their contacts and year around activities is based on WT activities.

If for any reason one of JW is disfeloshiped, beside the Organization of JW there is not alternative…so you are all by yourselves. Is there the possibility that being isolate you can attempt suicide? I let you know the answer by yourselves. I personally know some did it but in other Institutions like Prisons, we know very well that isolation bring also suicidal thoughts as well as acts.

Even more sad when as for speech of one very known JW in …tr…at international Convention (2003), he stated that ‘…you should accept this discipline (disfeloshiping…) though if some judicial errors…’A chance a form of appeal is now out there but before it was ‘one way only’

As I said before expulsion of someone for serious errors could be personally view acceptable but shunning with ostracism is going beyond the Love Jesus teaches us and not only Jesus but also our own conscience.

T. Bradley
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August 04, 2013
Thank you, Michelle. I see you have your cheerleading skirt and pom-poms on today. Unfortunately, you left your brain at home. If AAWA's point was that the JW's boot out people with suicidal tendencies and alcohol problems and cut them off from family, when they most need family support - then that is what they should have said. Sadly, they decided to go the sensationalistic and deceitful route, telling half-truths. They do the cause more harm than good. And also, you look ridiculous in that cheerleading skirt.
anonymous will enoch
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August 04, 2013
Remember, the shunner also may suffer mental harm as well as the shunee. Children on both sides are especially harmed by this abusive WatchTower Society policy when they HAVE TO shun parents or be shunned by parents. Just not natural.
T. Bradley
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August 04, 2013
So, AAWA used, without permission, the story of someone they don't know personally (Eric Reeder)? Then quote-mined comments he made? Then told off a member of his family who objected(Larry Wilson)?

Do you think this is the best way to get your point across, AAWA?

Or are people just pawns and acceptable collateral damage to further your agenda?

Shameful, Julia Barrack Douglas. Shameful.
Michelle G.
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August 04, 2013
I don't think what AAWA did to expose the Watchtower's shunning policy and the effects it can have on struggling ex-members is shameful at all. In fact, I give them credit for being brave enough to take a stand and confront the problem head-on. One doesn't need to know someone personally to share their story in a news article. Personal stories are shared in the news every day and the reporters or publishers don't necessarily know the individual on a personal level, whether they have passed or not. Thank you AAWA for all the time and effort taken to help those being shunned and ostracized by the Watchtower Society.
Uri
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August 10, 2013
Aawwa is the best thing that has come out all this Watchtower deceitfulness behavior that has been witness throu it's history. I have many experiences that relate to this unfortunate encounters with the Watchtower(30yrs to b exact) when a group of men r self appointees what follows is corruption!!
Larry Wilson
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August 04, 2013
As a family member of Eric Reeder you only reported part of his life's issues. He had many others and had threatened to take his life on several occasions before the tragic motorcycle event. The facts about that accident are not accurately reported. This event was only one of many where he had threatened and tried to take his own life. Perhaps your reporting should include the tragic effects of alcoholism and other destructive behavior that can result in destructive behavior.
Julia Douglas
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August 04, 2013
If Eric Reeder was dealing with the disease of alcoholism and suicidal ideation that only underlines further how unbelievably cruel it was for the congregation to cut off the support of his family and his friends.

Sadly, I have seen this cruel treatment in action far too many times. I know of three young women who were subjected to judicial action and shunning following tragic accidents. All three were left with catastrophic brain injuries and have all been shunned.

Where is the love?
Michelle G.
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August 04, 2013
Thank you Julia for pointing out the cruelty in shunning family members, especially those who struggle with suicidal ideation and alcoholism. The cutting off of family support no doubt contributed to his suicide. As a nurse who cares for those who have attempted suicide and patients withdrawing from alcoholism on a daily basis I have seen first hand the importance of family support in these difficult times and it is truly sad how the pain of judgmental and unsupportive family members can perpetuate these and cause people to lose hope.
Larry Wilson
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August 04, 2013
You should know that many did in fact attempt to help; we are a very loving large family. Unfortunately, the help was rejected and it resulted in two failed marriages and the tragic end. It is unfortunate to ends one’s life but it was not caused by any shunning. Facts should be well researched before they are put to print; the facts are the truth was simply not presented accurately.
Michelle G.
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August 04, 2013
"It is unfortunate to ends one’s life but it was not caused by any shunning."

I understand that you are trying to defend your family and your religion, but this does not change the fact that the Watchtower Society enforces shunning of members who are disfellowshipped or choose to leave. They do not even allow communication through email anymore as published in the January 2013 Watchtower and publicly announce at district conventions and publish in articles that apostates are "mentally diseased" and are associated with the devil and are not to be communicated with. Refusing to acknowledge that the struggle of leaving a high-control religious group while losing close relationships with your family and closest friends is devastating and will no doubt take a toll on one's mental health. This article is shedding light on the effects that this policy can have on many and only wants those who enforce the policies of the JW's to have more human compassion.

Refusing to acknowledge that any form of shunning or limited communication contributed to Eric's suicide does not show compassion for Eric's situation and does not change the problem. There is no denying that your family is loving and may have offered help. Please don't feel that it is your family who is being criticized, it is those who created and continue to enforce the cruel shunning policy on families.
Julia Douglas
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August 04, 2013
My comments are based on following Eric's comments on an online support group for former members of Jehovah's Witnesses who have been shunned.

I can only base my comments on what Eric himself told us about the angst he was experiencing.

I am very sorry for the pain that family and friends experienced when he passed away. This topic is close to my heart.
anonymous
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August 05, 2013
Michelle G. And Julia Douglas are right. This is about the JW and the effects of their policies - even if just potentially. The 7 Great World religions at least change continuously (even Islam - albeit too much limited to the Islamic intellectuals) but the JW is not of our time, it is a cult and cults hardly evolve, they do not subscribe to the flows of thought and exchange of thought along the lines of intelligent and engaging discourse and historical text criticism. The shunning is barbaric, refusal of blood transfusion is completely backward, not to mention the exclusivism of the movement, as if anyone really has the right to not be part of mankind.

The coverage of the real problem with this particular JW practice seems quite accurate in the article. Coverage of the family conditions of the victim was not the issue at stake.
Jcmmanuel
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August 05, 2013
By jcmmanuel (sorry, unregistered user, forgot to identify)

Facebook.com/jcmmanuel
i.lecca
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August 03, 2013
Well let face it…is very hard to establish limits in this topic…I know Witnesses very well (my parents were of them..). Nevertheless we all must agree that the huge majority of ‘organized’ religion scope IS CONTRLING PEOPLE. Some time is done ‘openly’ and some time under ‘camouflage’ yet the scope is the same: TO VOID your faculties of thinking.

In the case of JW, their first President (Russell…) was a dissident also of his prior religion group and never had we had reports telling us he was ‘shunned’ by his past community.

What is dangerous among Witnesses is the increasing ‘power’ given to the ‘Elders’, people which apply à book of guide (Pay attention to the …) as a book ‘by the book’.

I personally know that application of ‘rules’ are not the same among the elders…this means that behavior among the witnesses is not the same.

I was myself put a part though the whole prove shows the contrary and though not prove. If the elder judging the matter does not like your profile, the discipline will be given in ‘camouflage way’ and you understand that only if you are a good communicator: this is a form of ‘shunning’ due to the freedom of power of the elders though the official proceeder is not the same as on the Watchtower publications.

Of course putting a part my companionship means also doing so to my child 5 old and limiting the association also to develop children communication is just disastrous.

So who say the truth, Watchtower or JW? Well is hard to judge. Nevertheless if shunning is proved to be a psychological and disastrous act, lets the Governmental authorities work this issue so that those using it be pursuit in justice…Is another problem though, to keep people quite, Government likes Religions.

THE RONBOT HUNTER
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August 03, 2013
The disconnection policy of this Godless cult is extremely sinful.It makes their slaves abandon small children, and even abort their own babies. They order people to attack, hurt, scam, lie and steal from the ones that are classified as SP or critics.

Their crimes against humanity is just beginning to fully come out. They use your confessionals against you and do all they can to ruin you if you oppose their crimes.

THE RONBOT HUNTER

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
Read the Bible
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August 04, 2013
Have you ever decided not to speak to someone or ignore them, for whatever reason? Then you also have shunned people! No law could ever be passed to eliminate shunning. In the case of Bible based shunning,you need to read and try to understand what is said in the Bible on this subject and perhaps you may see things differently. That is, if you care about what the Bible says. Most cases of shunning does not deal with Blood, Mentally or emotional issues. What is written here is hype by those who are looking at this matter from a one sided view only.
Julia Douglas
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August 03, 2013
Freedom of religion does not mean that an organization can abuse and torture former members. Shunning is psychological torture!

Physical torture is the inflicting of severe pain or suffering on a person. In contrast, psychological torture is directed at the psyche with calculated violations of psychological needs, along with deep damage to psychological structures and the breakage of beliefs underpinning normal sanity.

Psychological torture also includes deliberate use of extreme stressors and situations such as shunning. Because psychological torture needs no physical violence to be effective, it is possible to induce severe psychological pain, suffering, and trauma with no externally visible effects. Research over the past 50 years shows that, under the right circumstances and with the appropriate encouragement and setting, most people can be encouraged to torture others.

Peer encouragement: to accept torture as necessary, acceptable or deserved, or to comply from a wish to not reject peer group beliefs.

In a religious organization, like the Watchtower, once torture becomes established as part of internally acceptable norms under certain circumstances, its use often goes beyond being used exceptionally for perceived necessity and finds more reasons claimed to justify wider use.

If shunning is classed as psychological torture then why wouldn't this be classed as a crime when used by religious organizations? Religious freedom does not entitle anyone to resort to criminal methods - torture - to control their members. That's ridiculous!
R. U. Foreel
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August 03, 2013
SO MUCH FOR THE 1ST AMENDMENT

300 onlookers waiting to see if you post this.

If not...deluge!
Julia Douglas
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August 03, 2013
Freedom of religion does not mean that an organization can abuse and torture former members. Shunning is psychological torture!

Physical torture is the inflicting of severe pain or suffering on a person. In contrast, psychological torture is directed at the psyche with calculated violations of psychological needs, along with deep damage to psychological structures and the breakage of beliefs underpinning normal sanity.

Psychological torture also includes deliberate use of extreme stressors and situations such as shunning. Because psychological torture needs no physical violence to be effective, it is possible to induce severe psychological pain, suffering, and trauma with no externally visible effects. Research over the past 50 years shows that, under the right circumstances and with the appropriate encouragement and setting, most people can be encouraged to torture others.

Peer encouragement: to accept torture as necessary, acceptable or deserved, or to comply from a wish to not reject peer group beliefs.

In a religious organization, like the Watchtower, once torture becomes established as part of internally acceptable norms under certain circumstances, its use often goes beyond being used exceptionally for perceived necessity and finds more reasons claimed to justify wider use.

If shunning is classed as psychological torture then why wouldn't this be classed as a crime when used by religious organizations? Religious freedom does not entitle anyone to resort to criminal methods - torture - to control their members. That's ridiculous!
i.lecca
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August 02, 2013
Form of discipline are common among JW and members know very well this instrument could be against you some day. Yet, prior to apply the ‘discipline’, as for instructions of the WT and their publication ‘Organized …’ the person must face a comity in order to verify the facts. If the facts are hard to establish (maybe there is not case …) is not uncommon the ‘Elders’ will apply anyway a form of ‘shunning’ less conventional but devastator. For example they will allow you some comments at meeting but very seldom with ords of appreciation. This will give the message to the attendants that your comments are not more welcome. Also you will not be asking anymore to represent the ‘Congregation’ in prayer so most of the audience will notice that. These steps could be applied for a ‘convicted’ sinner after judgment but it is used also in case of ‘possible’ sins never accounted as such.

So is there 2 form of shunning both ‘cruel’ and killing the formal one we could aspect to receive the informal even harder and cruel because abusing of they own rules.

I.Lecca
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August 02, 2013
To be part of a group we must accept the conditions and when people accept to be part of Jehovah Witness Organization, they ‘usually’ do it with a full knowledge of what about breaking the ‘codes’.

Do not forget, most religions (maybe Witness as well?) are un instrument of Governments in order to keep people quite; either you accept the ‘Loving Christ’ message with ‘Love’ (??) either society can use the ‘bat’ to literally ‘correct you’. Yes, State and Religion they work together.

Yet about ‘Shunning’ for sure the Bible ‘states’ to do so….but what was the intention of such declarations at that time? Do we remember once Jesus Christ stating ‘…if you look at a woman with desire you already make adultery…so better for you to take off your eye.. .’ Does this mean each time a man is looking a woman with appreciation he should mutilate himself?? Como on!!

Though the extent of the ‘sin’ could suggest disfellowshipping in order to let people know the person is not more one of the Witnesses (most people know the main reasons JW disfellowships some ones…) yet shunning and accentuating the bad reputation of someone inside and outside the Congregation is against the ‘Principle of Love’ well teach by JW themselves and also by all contemporary civil society.



Happy At Last
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August 03, 2013
I disagree that most do it with a full knowledge of what they are signing up for. My parents became JWs when I was seven years old. I was not given a choice as to whether or not I would be a witness. As a youth, the pressure and fear tactics to become baptised, and thus a full fledged member was intense. I did become baptised without full understanding of the conditions and rules. I stayed good, and never got into any real trouble with the congregation, and eventually married a witness man, who turned out to be a bully from the beginning. After ten years of abuse, I divorced him.

The elders used every trick of coercion they could to try to get me to go back to him. I was called a Jezebel for leaving this fine brother. I ended up getting married again and disfellowshipped. When you think about it, its ludicrous that a woman should be shunned for getting married, but a man given no discipline for breaking his wife's jaw.

I did become reinstated, but by then, I had learned that lies abound about "worldly" people, and a few years later, left of my own accord.

But the fact is, the organization is pushing hard for younger and younger kids to be baptised. There is no way a twelve year old truly understands the conditions that will be imposed nor that if they make a childish mistake as most teenagers are apt to do, that they will be punished, humiliated and shunned as adults. Many shunned completely at home. It amazes me that parents can be so psychologically abusive to their own kids.

I am glad that I did not push my kids to be baptised. I wanted them to grow up and make an informed decision. They chose not to join the sect, and for that I am eternally grateful.
NeonMadman
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August 03, 2013
I have to disagree with your statement that "when people accept to be part of Jehovah Witness Organization, they ‘usually’ do it with a full knowledge of what about breaking the ‘codes’."

Jehovah's Witnesses are, and always have been, deceptive in their recruiting, in many, many ways. Prospective converts will hear only positives about the Society. Negatives, no matter how compelling, will never be mentioned. A baptismal candidate is likely never to have heard about the pedophile scandals, the UN-NGO issue or the organization's occult connections or its history of false prophecies, or a dozen other scandals. If they know about them at all, it will not be because they heard it from the Witness who studied with them or other JW sources; likely it will have been from the "forbidden" internet or the news media.

Even more to the point: A baptismal candidate may know that JW's are not supposed to take blood transfusions. But will he really understand that he will be expected to lay down his life for this teaching, or face disfellowshipping? A baptismal candidate may know that JW's can be disfellowshipped and shunned for immoral practices, but does he really understand that he can also be disfellowshipped simply for disagreeing with the organization's teachings in any area? Do you think that, if they were made aware of these things, many baptismal candidates would reconsider joining this organization? The literature that is studied by new recruits prior to baptism says very little about these issues, certainly not enough to be considered "full disclosure" in any sense.

By keeping these things hidden, the JW's manage to get many recruits who would never join if they were fully informed. Once inside, they are subject to massive peer pressure and threat of shunning by friends and family to keep them in line.
solo one
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August 02, 2013
i left when home and the jws at the age of 15 . im 37 now and i have been shunned by my family and all the people i grew up with that i thought were my friends . i was put on the streets ,and knew nothing of the world outside the jws. i turned to drugs to deal with the pain i was feeling . to this day i still only wish i had a normal family. but that will never happen .here i am still all alone and getting older now . i wish there was a way to put a lawsuit together to take action . i certainly feel that i was robbed of my life and family. i am surprised that im still here to be honest . its been a hard life .theres so much more to my story.but for now thats all i want to share about it for now.
Alean
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August 02, 2013
Seems like a catch 22 ..One who is out can come back and have family and Jehovah, The family can turn from Jehovah and favor one who does not seem to be able to accept the terms of the family or Jehovah. Jehovah witnesses don't seem to wishy washy in their dedication to the god who created all things. Here is a little assurance Ps. 27:10 I read the surrounding scriptures, pretty good stuff.
Steven Unthank
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August 02, 2013
Like my friend Eric Reeder, I too was shunned by Jehovah's Witnesses, including by over 50 relatives. My suicide was stopped by an anonymous passerby. My crime according to Jehovah's Witnesses... I spoke up about wrongdoing committed by elders and those at the headquarters of the Watchtower Society in Australia.

In February 2011, I finally managed to heal the pain associated with my suicide attempt by putting my thoughts and fears into a poem "Walk of Life". I published this on my web site as part of my healing. I wrote this to heal me and to move on.

I am strong enough now to stand up and to help those who cannot stand up for themselves.

http://stevenunthank.com/walk-of-life/
Sami Kleppe
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August 02, 2013
I was never a Jehovah's Witness but have met many over the past few years. I know so many ex witnesses that are suffering from the shunning practice. I shouldn't call it a practice and should call it a rule that must be followed. It is for the sole reason to keep the flock in the fold and away from anyone who may tell them the real truth about the organization. I have dealt with high control groups before but never have I seen one as good at controlling people as the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society. So sad!!
anonymous
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August 02, 2013
I was once the shunner when I was a member of the Watchtower Society. Now I'm the shunned as a former member. I've come to learn that many Watchtower Society members are shunned for simply disagreeing with Watchtower Society's ever-changing teachings and are still shunned when the shunned-for teachings change. So unfair!

Thanks for voicing up for Advocates for Awareness of Watchtower Abuses.
Christian Sparlock
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August 02, 2013
I was bornin to the JWs over 50 yrs ago .

Their unbiblical application of shunning has

destroyed

Lives

Families

Marriages

Childhoods

Caused thousands of suicides and resulted in mental ,emotional and spiritual trauma .

Also their protection of child molesters is becoming well known .

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/18/us/28-million-awarded-in-jehovahs-witnesses-abuse-case.html?_r=0