Jehovah's Witnesses and congregational discipline
Jehovah's Witnesses employ various levels of congregational discipline as formal controls administered by congregation elders. Members who engage in conduct that is considered inappropriate may be counseled privately by elders and congregational responsibilities may be withheld or restricted. If initial counsel is not accepted, elders may present a talk to the congregation about the type of behavior, alerting other members already aware of the individual's conduct to limit social interaction with that person. Hearings involving "serious sin" are performed by formal judicial committees, in which guilt and repentance are determined by a tribunal of elders. A variety of controls can be enforced, from reproof and restriction of congregational duties to excommunication, known as disfellowshipping, which includes shunning by the congregation. Individuals who are disfellowshipped may be reinstated after an extended period if they are deemed to demonstrate repentance. The practice of disfellowshipping has been criticized by many non-members and ex-members.
Discipline involving non-judicial situationsEdit
At the elders' discretion, "non-judicial" situations may involve discipline of one or more of several types.
Counsel may be given in situations involving actions that are considered inappropriate but are not considered to be of sufficient gravity to necessitate a judicial committee. Counsel may be provided by a mature Witness in addition to self-discipline and family discipline. Elders may also give recommendations or warnings to members in non-judicial situations.
At conventions and assemblies, and about once each month at a local midweek meeting, a short talk regarding "local needs" is presented. An elder addresses matters that are relevant to the local congregation, with instructions outlining the course of action considered appropriate. No specific individuals are identified during the talk, but the talk may relate to a matter for which a member has recently been "reproved". At times, some temporary policy may be announced that might be seen as disciplinary; for example, it may be that an additional attendant is assigned outside a Kingdom Hall to discourage children from running on the sidewalk.
Personal "shepherding visits" are intended to encourage members of the congregation, though may also include counsel and correction, then or on a subsequent visit. Two elders (or an elder and a ministerial servant) may schedule and perform a particular shepherding visit on their own or at the direction of the body of elders.
Withheld recommendations or assignmentsEdit
The body of elders may withhold its recommendation for a member to serve in a new position of responsibility, though still permitting existing responsibilities.
For example, a ministerial servant who consistently seems insufficiently prepared for his meeting parts may have such assignments withheld for a time, even though he may continue serving as a ministerial servant or in some other "special privilege of service".
An active Jehovah's Witness may have their congregational "privileges of service" limited, even without having committed a serious sin. While Witnesses sometimes refer to field ministry, after-meeting cleanup, and other responsibilities as "privileges", the term "privileges of service" often implies a specific range of assignments assisting elders and ministerial servants with meeting demonstrations and other responsibilities. Such limitations are usually temporary.
Elders, ministerial servants, pioneers, or other appointed Witnesses can lose their "special privileges of service". For example, an elder may be removed or choose to step aside voluntarily from his position if members of his household are not in "good standing". After resignation or removal from an appointed position, an announcement is made during the congregation's Service Meeting indicating that the person is "no longer serving [in that capacity]", without elaboration.
Members who persist in a course considered scripturally wrong after repeated counsel by elders, but who are not considered guilty of something for which they could be disfellowshipped, can be "marked", based on Jehovah's Witnesses' interpretation of 2 Thessalonians 3:14–15 (NWT): "14 But if anyone is not obedient to our word through this letter, keep this one marked and stop associating with him, so that he may become ashamed. 15 And yet do not consider him an enemy, but continue admonishing him as a brother." Actions for which an individual may be "marked" include dating a non-member, dating when not "scripturally" or legally free to marry, being lazy, critical, or dirty, meddling, taking material advantage of others or indulging in "improper" entertainment. "Marking" is indicated by means of a warning talk given to the congregation outlining the shameful course, without explicitly naming any particular individual. Members who know whose actions are being discussed may then consider the individual "marked". Though not shunned, "marked" individuals are looked upon as "bad association" and social interaction outside of formal worship settings is generally curtailed. This action is intended to "shame" the person into following a particular course of action.
Discipline involving "serious sin"Edit
If an active baptized Witness is considered to have committed a "serious sin" for which the individual must demonstrate formal repentance, correction (or, "discipline") is administered by the congregation's body of elders. Such situations usually involve a "judicial committee" of three or more elders.
List of "serious sins"Edit
Jehovah's Witnesses consider many actions to be "serious sins", for which baptized Witnesses are subject to a judicial committee hearing. Such actions include:
- anal or oral sex
- encouraging the celebration of birthdays or other prohibited celebrations
- blood transfusions
- "brazen conduct" or "loose conduct", including:
- cybersex or phone sex
- drug abuse
- celebrating religious and national holidays
- homosexual activity
- interfaith activity
- joining the military
- physical uncleanness (extreme)
- political activities
- hardcore pornography
- refusal to provide for family
- remarriage "if adultery and rejection by the innocent mate had not occurred"
- subversive, antigovernment activity
- the use of tobacco
- verbal abuse
- voting in political elections
An individual may also be disfellowshipped for promoting one of the above listed "sins" without actually engaging in the practice, or for accepting employment related to one of them (e.g. selling lottery tickets, firearms or cigarettes; working in an abortion clinic, church or military base).
If a baptized Witness teaches contrary to Witness doctrines, it is considered apostasy and grounds for disfellowshipping. A 1981 letter to overseers—reproduced in a book by former Governing Body member Raymond Franz—directed that a member who "persists in believing other doctrine", even without promoting such beliefs, may also be subject to disfellowshipping. Elders usually try to reason with the individual before such action is taken. If a person believes that a teaching should be adjusted or changed, he is encouraged "to be patient and wait on Jehovah for change".The Watchtower states that "apostates are "mentally diseased," that they seek to infect others with their disloyal teachings, (1 Timothy 6:3, 4 [NWT]) and "to avoid contact with them." (Romans 16:17 [NWT]); Some have stated that this applies to all individuals who leave the organization.
Evidence for actions that can result in congregational discipline is obtained by voluntary confession to the elders or by witnesses of the violation. A minimum of two witnesses is required to establish guilt, based on their understanding of Deuteronomy 17:6 and Matthew 18:16, unless the person confesses voluntarily. Members are instructed to report serious sins committed by other members. Failure to report a serious sin of another member is viewed as sharing in the sins of others, a sin before God. Witnesses are instructed that pledges of confidentiality may be broken to report what they believe to be transgressions.
A congregation's body of elders considers confessions or credible allegations of serious sin, and decides whether a judicial committee will be formed to address the matter. A judicial committee, usually consisting of three elders, investigates the details of the alleged sin further. The committee arranges a formal judicial hearing to determine the circumstances of the sin, whether the accused is repentant, and whether disciplinary actions will be taken.
In certain situations, a body of elders may handle a situation involving "serious sin" by a baptized Witness without a judicial committee:
- Minor or newly baptized - A minor or newly baptized Witness might commit one or two acts of "serious sin" involving tobacco or overdrinking; repercussions as for 'non-judicial' situations may still be imposed.
- Repentance - The body of elders may believe the sinner's repentance has been established and accepted. For example, if a member committed a "serious sin" several years ago, had formally repented in prayer, and the sin did not involve scheming. Witnesses are strongly discouraged from waiting years to resolve such matters; even if years have passed since the serious sin, it is typical for a judicial committee to be formed, and there may still be repercussions as for ‘non-judicial’ situations.
- Judicial abeyance - Elders may become aware of a "serious sin" committed by a baptized Witness who has been inactive for some time and is not perceived as a Jehovah's Witness. If the alleged sinner is not associating with active Witnesses, the elders may indefinitely postpone a judicial committee and formal hearing unless and until the individual renews their association with the congregation.
A person accused of a serious sin is informed of the allegations and invited to attend a judicial committee meeting. The individual is permitted to bring witnesses who can speak in their defense; observers are not allowed, and the hearing is held privately even if the accused individual requests that it be heard openly so all may witness the evidence. Recording devices are not permitted at the hearing. If the accused repeatedly fails to attend an arranged hearing, the committee will proceed but will not make a decision until evidence and testimony by witnesses are considered.
The committee takes the role of prosecutor, judge and jury when handling its cases. After the hearing is opened with a prayer, the accused is invited to make a personal statement. If there is no admission of guilt, the individual is informed of the source of the charges and witnesses are presented one at a time to give evidence. Witnesses do not remain present for the entire hearing. Once all the evidence is presented, the accused and all witnesses are dismissed and the committee reviews the evidence and the attitude of the accused.
The committee may determine that there was no "serious sin", or that mitigating circumstances absolve the accused individual. The committee may then proceed with discipline such as is described for 'non-judicial' situations. Alternatively, the committee may decide that a serious sin was committed, in which case, the committee gives verbal admonitions and gauges the individual's attitude and repentance. The committee then decides whether discipline will involve formal reproof or disfellowshipping.
Reproof involves actions for which a person could be disfellowshipped, and is said to be an effort to 'reach the heart' and convince a person of the need to hate the sanctioned actions and repent. Reproof is considered sufficient if the individual is deemed repentant. Reproof is given before all who are aware of the transgression. If the conduct is known only to the individual and the judicial committee, reproof is given privately. If the sin is known by a small number, they would be invited by the elders, and reproof would be given before the sinner and those with knowledge of the sin. If the action is known generally by the entire congregation or the wider community, an announcement is made that the person "has been reproved". A related local needs talk may be given, separately to the announcement, without naming anyone.
In all cases of reproof, restrictions are imposed, typically prohibiting the individual from sharing in meeting parts, commenting during meetings, and giving group prayers. A reproved Witness cannot enroll as a pioneer or auxiliary pioneer for at least one year after reproof is given.
All members are expected to abide by the beliefs and moral standards of Jehovah's Witnesses. Serious violations of these requirements can result in disfellowshipping (similar to excommunication) and subsequent shunning if not deemed repentant. When a judicial committee decides that a baptized Witness has committed a serious sin and is unrepentant, the person is disfellowshipped. A person who believes that a serious error in judgment has been made may appeal the decision. Requests for appeal must be made in writing and within seven days of the decision of the judicial committee. Their shunning policy is based on their interpretation of scriptures such as 1 Corinthians 5:11–13; Matthew 18:15–17; and 2 John 9–11. Witness literature states that avoiding interaction with disfellowshipped former adherents helps to:
- avoid reproach on God's name and organization by indicating that violations of the Bible's standards in their ranks are not tolerated;
- keep the congregation free of possible corrosive influences; and
- convince the disfellowshipped individual to re-evaluate their course of action, repent and rejoin the group.
Shunning is also practiced when a member formally resigns membership or is deemed to indicate by their actions—such as accepting a blood transfusion or association with another religion or military organization—that they do not wish to be known as a Witness. Such individuals are said to have disassociated, and are described by the Watch Tower Society as "lawless" in a spiritual sense.
When a person is disfellowshipped or is deemed to have disassociated, an announcement is made at the next midweek meeting that the named individual "is no longer one of Jehovah's Witnesses". Congregation members are not informed whether a person is being shunned due to "disfellowshipping" or "disassociation", or on what grounds. Shunning starts immediately after the announcement is made. A notification form is sent to the local branch office and records of the disfellowshipping are saved in the congregational records. Both are kept until at least five years after reinstatement.
Failure to adhere to the directions on shunning is itself considered a serious offense. Members who continue to speak to or associate with a disfellowshipped or disassociated person are said to be sharing in their "wicked works" and may themselves be disfellowshipped. Exceptions are made in some cases, such as business relations and immediate family household situations. If a disfellowshipped person is living in the same home with other baptized family members, religious matters are not discussed, with the exception of minors, for whose training parents are still responsible. Disfellowshipped family members outside the home are shunned. Disfellowshipped individuals can continue attending public meetings held at the Kingdom Hall, though they are shunned by the congregation.
Disfellowshipped individuals may be reinstated into the congregation if they are considered repentant of their previous actions and attitude. If a disassociated or disfellowshipped individual requests reinstatement, a judicial committee, (the committee originally involved, if available) seeks to determine whether the person has repented. Such individuals must demonstrate that they no longer practice the conduct for which they were expelled from the congregation, as well as submission to the group's regulations. Individuals disfellowshipped for actions no longer considered serious sins, such as organ transplants, are not automatically reinstated. Attending meetings while being shunned is a requirement for eventual reinstatement. Once a decision is made to reinstate, a brief announcement is made to the congregation that the individual "is reinstated as one of Jehovah's Witnesses".
Elders are instructed to make an attempt each year to remind disfellowshipped individuals of the steps they can take to qualify for reinstatement. No specific period of time is prescribed before this can happen; however, the Watch Tower Society suggests a period of "perhaps many months, a year, or longer." In 1974, the Watch Tower Society stated that about one third of those disfellowshipped eventually return to the group, based on figures gathered from 1963 to 1973.[needs update]
Congregational restrictions are imposed on reinstated individuals. Participation at religious meetings, including commenting from the audience, is initially not permitted; such "privileges" may be gradually permitted over time if the individual is considered to have "progressed spiritually". Reinstated individuals may be ineligible for many years from serving in positions of responsibility such as an elder, ministerial servant or pioneer.
In June 1987, the United States Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit upheld the Witnesses' right to shun those who fail to live by the group's standards and doctrines, upholding the ruling of a lower court. The court concluded that, "Shunning is a practice engaged in by Jehovah's Witnesses pursuant to their interpretation of canonical text, and we are not free to reinterpret that text. ... We find the practice of shunning not to constitute a sufficient threat to the peace, safety, or morality of the community as to warrant state intervention. ... the defendants are entitled to the free exercise of their religious beliefs. ... Courts generally do not scrutinize closely the relationship among members (or former members) of a church. Churches are afforded great latitude when they impose discipline on members or former members. ... The members of the Church Paul decided to abandon have concluded that they no longer want to associate with her. We hold that they are free to make that choice. ... Although we recognize that the harms suffered by Janice Paul are real and not insubstantial, permitting her to recover for intangible or emotional injuries would unconstitutionally restrict the Jehovah's Witnesses free exercise of religion. ... The constitutional guarantee of the free exercise of religion requires that society tolerate the type of harms suffered by Paul as a price well worth paying to safeguard the right of religious difference that all citizens enjoy."
In a review of the case, the 1988 Washington University Law Quarterly remarked, "The Ninth Circuit's extension of the free exercise clause to include a privilege against tort liability is incorrect. First, by distinguishing emotional harms from physical harms, the court downplayed the significance of an emotional injury, which is often times as great as physical harm. ... In most of the free exercise cases decided by the Supreme Court the government has acted against the religious group, either by imposing criminal sanctions for religious conduct or denying members some benefit because of their religious beliefs. In Paul, however, the religious group acted as the aggressor, violating the plaintiff's right to emotional well-being. By granting defendants an absolute privilege against tort liability, the court has allowed the Church to use the shield of the first amendment as a sword. ... The Paul decision is an unfortunate expansion of a doctrine intended to protect individual rights. To turn the doctrine on its head and use it as a means to thwart another person's rights is an ironic twist that would undoubtedly displease the drafters of the first amendment. ... At best, Paul can be viewed as a slight detour from the correct interpretation of the free exercise clause and the proper balancing of interests performed by the Supreme Court and numerous lower courts."
On May 31, 2018, the Supreme Court of Canada issued a 9-0 decision saying courts have no jurisdiction to review membership questions of a religious organization. "In the end, religious groups are free to determine their own membership and rules; courts will not intervene in such matters save where it is necessary to resolve an underlying legal dispute," Justice Malcolm Rowe wrote in the decision.
An unbaptized individual who has previously been approved to share in Jehovah's Witnesses' formal ministry, but who subsequently behaves in a manner considered inappropriate may lose privileges, such as commenting at meetings, receiving assignments, or even accompanying the congregation in the public ministry.
If an unbaptized individual is deemed unrepentant of actions for which baptized members might be disfellowshipped, an announcement would be made that the person "is no longer a publisher of the good news." Such individuals were previously shunned, but formal restrictions are no longer imposed on unbaptized individuals, though association is generally curtailed. The elders might privately warn individuals in the congregation if the unbaptized person is considered to pose "an unusual threat".
The only way to officially leave Jehovah's Witnesses is to disassociate or be disfellowshipped, and both entail the same set of prohibitions and penalties, with no provision for continued normal association. Jehovah's Witnesses state that disfellowshipping is a scripturally documented method to protect the congregation from the influence of those who practice serious wrongdoing. Critics contend that the judicial process itself, due to its private and nearly autonomous nature, directly contradicts the precedent found in the Bible and the organization's own teachings and can be used in an arbitrary manner if there is consensus among just a few to abuse their authority.
According to Raymond Franz, a letter dated September 1, 1980, from the Watch Tower Society to all circuit and district overseers advised that a member who "merely disagrees in thought with any of the Watch Tower Society's teachings is committing apostasy and is liable for disfellowshipping." The letter states that one does not have to "promote" different doctrines to be an apostate, adding that elders need to "discern between one who is a trouble-making apostate and a Christian who becomes weak in the faith and has doubts."
- Keep Yourselves in God's Love. Watch Tower Society. pp. 142–143.
- Our Kingdom Ministry, Service meeting schedule, 1992-2009
- "Question Box". Our Kingdom Ministry. March 1972. p. 4.
- "Do You Accept Jehovah's Help?". The Watchtower. December 15, 2004. p. 21.
- "Charisma—Praise to Man or Glory to God?". The Watchtower. February 15, 1998. p. 27.
- "How Christian Shepherds Serve You". The Watchtower. March 15, 1996. p. 27.
- "Announcements". Our Kingdom Ministry. June 2005. p. 3.
- "Let Discernment Safeguard You". The Watchtower. March 15, 1997. p. 19.
Even well-meaning Christians have shared information about seemingly profitable ventures, only to find that they and those following their example lost the money they invested. As a result, a number of Christians have lost privileges in the congregation.
- "Are You Reaching Out?". The Watchtower. September 1, 1990. p. 23.
Even if counsel has been required, it may not be such a long time before a humble and grateful man again receives added privileges of service in the congregation.
- Jehovah's Witnesses use the term "special privileges of service" for positions requiring formal appointment or approval, such as elder, ministerial servant, pioneer, Bethel (branch) service, and schools such as Gilead and Ministerial Training School; "Make Room for It", Our Kingdom Ministry, April 2003, page 1
- Draw Close To Jehovah. Watch Tower Society. pp. 268–269.
- "Father and Elder—Fulfilling Both Roles". The Watchtower. October 15, 1996. p. 21.
- "Announcements". Our Kingdom Ministry. February 1991. p. 7.
- "Questions From Readers". The Watchtower. April 15, 1985. p. 31.
- "Questions From Readers". The Watchtower: 31. July 15, 1999.
- Shepherd the Flock of God. Watch Tower Society. pp. 124–5.
- Organized to do Jehovah's will. Watch Tower Society. 2015. pp. 134–6.
This could include such things as being extremely lazy, critical, or dirty. He could be "meddling with what does not concern [him]." (2 Thess. 3:11) Or he might be one who schemes to take material advantage of others or indulges in entertainment that is clearly improper.
- "Questions From Readers". The Watchtower: 31. July 15, 1999.
Their ceasing to have social dealings and recreation with him might show him that principled people disliked his ways. ... Christians in the congregation who are thus alerted can individually decide to limit any socializing with ones who clearly are pursuing a disorderly course but who are still brothers.
- Organized to Do Jehovah's Will. Watch Tower Society. 2015. p. 139.
- "Questions From Readers". The Watchtower: 12. 15 April 2009.
Understanding that timeless truth has helped millions of Christians to repudiate the practice of abortion, seeing it as a serious sin against God.
- "Honor Godly Marriage!". The Watchtower: 31. 15 March 1983.
A mate's enforcing perverted acts, such as oral or anal sex, within the marriage would not constitute a Scriptural basis for a divorce that would free either for remarriage... If it becomes known that a member of the congregation is practicing or openly advocating perverted sex relations within the marriage bond, that one certainly would not be irreprehensible, and so would not be acceptable for special privileges, such as serving as an elder, a ministerial servant or a pioneer. Such practice and advocacy could even lead to expulsion from the congregation.
- "Apostasy" includes publicly challenging the group's teachings
- Correspondence Guidelines. Watch Tower Society. p. 29.
An individual would not normally be disfellowshipped for celebrating a birthday. However, if someone persists in strongly advocating the celebrating of birthdays or actively solicits birthday associated business, thus openly encouraging such celebrations and hence creating division, disfellowshipping may be in order.
- Jehovah's Witnesses—Proclaimers of God's Kingdom. pp. 182–184.
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.
- Shepherd the Flock of God. Watch Tower Society. p. 71.
If a Christian took up professional boxing and refused to stop despite repeated counsel, judicial action would be appropriate.
- "Questions From Readers". The Watchtower: 30–31. 1 July 1981.
If a Christian were to become a professional boxer, this would put him in conflict with God's counsel... Such a person should be given a reasonable period of time to discontinue his unchristian profession or occupation. His failure to do so would mean that the elders would have no alternative but to exclude him from the congregation.
- Shepherd the Flock of God. pp. 60–61.
Rather than relating to bad conduct of a somewhat petty or minor nature, "brazen conduct" describes acts that reflect an attitude that betrays disrespect, disregard, or even contempt for divine standards, laws, and authority. ... brazen conduct may be involved in the following if the wrongdoer has an insolent, contemptuous attitude made evident by a practice of these things: Willful, continued, unnecessary association with disfellowshipped nonrelatives despite repeated counsel. ... Child sexual abuse ... Continuing to date or pursue a romantic relationship with a person though not legally or Scripturally free to marry
- "Questions From Readers". The Watchtower. September 15, 1973. p. 574.
- Shepherd the Flock of God. Watch Tower Society. p. 116.
If members of the congregation are known to have undue association with disfellowshipped or disassociated relatives who are not in the household... he would not be dealt with judicially unless there is persistent spiritual association or he openly criticizes the disfellowshipping decision.
- "Prevention in the Home". Awake!: 10. 8 October 1993.
Similarly the Christian congregation today enforces strong laws against all forms of sexual abuse. Anyone who sexually abuses a child risks being disfellowshipped, put out of the congregation.
- Correspondence Guidelines. Watch Tower Society. p. 22.
When an individual makes a practice of engaging in immoral conversations by telephone or Internet chat rooms or by similar electronic means, this can constitute obscene speech and/or loose, brazen conduct, either of which can be a basis for judicial action.
- Shepherd the Flock of God. Watch Tower Society. p. 64,69.
- "You Must Be Holy Because Jehovah Is Holy". The Watchtower: 123. 15 February 1976.
Jehovah has brought to the attention of his "holy" people the need to disfellowship those dedicated, baptized Christians who refuse to break and give up the drug and tobacco habits.
- Correspondence Guidelines. Watch Tower Society. p. 8.
In cases where reproach has been brought upon the congregation by public drunkenness, judicial action may be required, even if only one incident has occurred.
- Shepherd the Flock of God, page 69
- Shepherd the Flock of God, p. 67-68
- Shepherd the Flock of God. Watch Tower Society. p. 67.
A glutton routinely shows a lack of restraint, even gorging himself on food to the point of feeling very uncomfortable or becoming sick. Gluttony is determined, not by someone's size, but by his attitude toward food.
- Shepherd the Flock of God. Watch Tower Society. p. 65.
- Correspondence Guidelines. Watch Tower Society. p. 63.
False religious holidays, such as Christmas (w00 12/15 3-7; w97 12/15 3-7; g81 12/22 16-17), Easter (w96 4/1 3-5; g86 3/22 5-8), and Halloween (g01 10/8 3-10; g81 10/22 16), all have pagan roots and are not shared in by true Christians... Our publications have commented on the following holidays: New Year's Day (g02 1/8 20-1; g86 12/22 20-1; w74 1/1 32); Thanksgiving Day and harvest-day festivals (w97 9/15 8-9; g76 11/22 9-13); Father's Day, Mother's Day, and Valentine's Day (g74 2/8 27-8); carnival celebrations (g96 6/8 14- 15); and Hanukkah.—g90 12/8 11-13.
- You Can Live Forever in Paradise on Earth. Watch Tower Society. p. 214.
So holidays that tend to exalt a man or a human organization are not in harmony with God's will, and true Christians will not share in them.
- Correspondence Guidelines. Watch Tower Society. p. 26.
- Correspondence Guidelines. Watch Tower Society. p. 10.
Judicial action would be taken if a person who has not joined another religion unrepentantly continues to engage in what are clearly apostate acts, such as bowing before altars and images and sharing actively in false religious songs and prayers.
- Shepherd the Flock of God, page 65
- The Watchtower, June 15, 2009, p. 18, "Speak Truth With Your Neighbor".
- Correspondence Guidelines. Watch Tower Society. p. 84.
The Witnesses do not interfere with what others do as to voting in political elections, running for political office, campaigning for politicians, or joining the military. But since true Christians are "no part of the world," a baptized Christian who deliberately pursues a course in violation of Christian neutrality removes (disassociates) himself from the congregation of Jehovah's people.
- Correspondence Guidelines. Watch Tower Society. p. 27.
Every effort should be made to help the offender see the need to keep his body and/or place of residence physically clean... If there is blatant, willful disregard of the counsel given and the extreme unclean, offensive conditions continue, disfellowshipping action may be necessary.
- "Adjust the Bible to Polygamy?". The Watchtower: 10. 1 July 1985.
polygamy is not to be condoned for any Christian regardless of nationality or circumstance. ... This leaves no room for polygamy among true Christians.
- Watchtower 7/15/06 p. 31 Questions From Readers; "But not all viewing of pornography calls for a hearing before a judicial committee. … However, suppose a Christian has secretly viewed abhorrent, sexually degrading pornography for years and has done everything possible to conceal this sin. Such pornography might feature gang rape, bondage, sadistic torture, the brutalizing of women, or even child pornography. When others become aware of his conduct, he is deeply ashamed. He has not been brazen, but the elders may determine that he has 'given himself over' to this filthy habit and has practiced 'uncleanness with greediness,' that is, gross uncleanness. A judicial committee would be formed because gross uncleanness is involved. The wrongdoer would be disfellowshipped if he did not display godly repentance"
- "When Marital Peace Is Threatened". The Watchtower. Watch Tower Society: 22. 1 November 1988.
Stubborn refusal to support one's family may result in disfellowshipping.
- Shepherd the Flock of God. Watch Tower Society. p. 71.
If a divorced person remarries and he was not Scripturally free to do so—in other words, if adultery and rejection by the innocent mate had not occurred — he has entered into an adulterous marriage. In Jehovah's eyes, he has married someone while still bound to another. Entering into such a marriage would call for judicial action.
- "Singapore Tramples on Freedom of Worship". The Watchtower: 31. October 1, 1995.
Jehovah’s Witnesses are known as decent, honest, law-abiding people. They are recognized for their staunch refusal to take part in any kind of subversive, antigovernment activity—unchristian action that can result in their being disfellowshipped, or excommunicated.
- "Personally Benefiting from the Bible's Laws and Principles". The Watchtower: 404–405. 1 July 1970.
In the Christian congregation there are definite laws against adultery, incest, homosexuality, bestiality, murder, stealing and other things, any of which, when committed by a Christian, would bring reproach from the world against the congregation. These things the Bible has put under the authority of the congregation, that is, it is required to take some action.
- Insight on the Scriptures. 1. p. 788.
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.
- "Help for Battered Women". Awake!: 9–12. 8 November 2001.
A “smiter” does not qualify for special privileges in the Christian congregation. Indeed, any professed Christian who repeatedly and unrepentantly gives in to fits of anger can be disfellowshipped from the Christian congregation.
- "Questions From Readers". The Watchtower: 29–30. April 15, 1999.
A Christian should avoid secular work that directly promotes activities that God disapproves of... Clearly, a person employed in a gambling den, an abortion clinic, or a house of prostitution would be an accomplice in an unscriptural practice. Even if his daily work there was merely sweeping floors or answering the telephone, he would be contributing to a practice that God's Word condemns.
- Correspondence Guidelines. Watch Tower Society. pp. 43–50.
If a member of the congregation gets involved in an employment situation that unquestionably puts him in conflict with the Bible... a period of time up to six months might be allowed for him to make the needed adjustments. In those cases in which that is not done, the person can be disfellowshipped or noted as someone who has disassociated himself from God's neutral congregation.
- To All Circuit and District Overseers, September 1, 1980, "Keep in mind that to be disfellowshipped, an apostate does not have to be a promoter of apostate views. ... if a baptized Christian abandons the teachings of Jehovah, as presented by the faithful and discreet slave, and persists in believing other doctrine despite Scriptural reproof, then he is apostatizing. ... [If] he continues to believe the apostate ideas and rejects what he has been provided through the 'slave class,' then appropriate judicial action should be taken. ... [If] something reasonably substantial comes to the attention of the elders along this line, it would be appropriate to make a kindly, discreet inquiry so as to protect the flock." Letter reproduced in Crisis of Conscience, Raymond Franz, 1983, chapter 11.
- The Watchtower 6/1/98 p. 19 par. 17 "Put Up a Hard Fight for the Faith"!
- "Show a Waiting Attitude!" The Watchtower September 1, 2000 page 11. Retrieved on 2013-02-02.
- "Will You Heed Jehovah's Clear Warnings?", The Watchtower, July 15, 2011, pages 15 and
- Holden, Andrew (2002). Jehovah's Witnesses: Portrait of a Contemporary Religious Movement. Routledge. p. 163. ISBN 0-415-26609-2.
- Taylor, Jerome (27 September 2011). "War of words breaks out among Jehovah's Witnesses". The Independent.
- "Jehovah's Witnesses church likens defectors to 'contagious, deadly disease'", Sunday Herald Sun, page 39, October 2, 2011.
- Pay Attention to Yourselves and to All the Flock, p. 111
- August 15, 1997 Watchtower, p. 27
- Insight in the Scriptures. 2. Watch Tower Society. p. 969.
- "A Time to Speak--When?" Watchtower, September 1, 1987, pp. 12-15
- "New Arrangements for Congregation Organization", Our Kingdom Ministry, September 1977, pages 5-6
- ""Gifts in Men" to Care for Jehovah’s Sheep", The Watchtower, June 1, 1999, page 14
- "Elders, Judge With Righteousness", The Watchtower, July 1, 1992, page 16
- "Disfellowshipping—A Loving Provision?", The Watchtower, July 15, 1995, page 25
- "Jehovah’s Sheep Need Tender Care", The Watchtower, January 15, 1996, page 18
- The Watchtower (July 15, 2006). "Questions From Readers": 30–31. Cite journal requires
- "Question Box", Our Kingdom Ministry, October 1972, page 8
- "Make Wise Use of Your Christian Freedom", June 1, 1992, page 19
- ""A Time to Speak"—When?", The Watchtower, September 1, 1987, page 14
- Pay Attention to Yourselves and All the Flock, Watch Tower Bible & Tract Society, 1991, page 110-120.
- Raymond Franz, In Search of Christian Freedom, Commentary Press, 2007, page 321.
- It is unclear whether accused individuals have always had the option to call witnesses. The judicial committee hearing accusations that resulted in the disfellowshipping of Canadian Witness James Penton in February 1981 refused Penton's request to have a lawyer present and to call witnesses. See James A. Beverley, Crisis of Allegiance (Welch Publishing, 1986, page 71).
- M. James Penton, Apocalypse Delayed, University of Toronto Press, 1997, page 89.
- "New Arrangements for Congregation Organization", Our Kingdom Ministry, September 1977, page 6
- The Watchtower 12/1/76 p. 723 par. 15 How Wise Reprovers Aid Erring Ones
- The Watchtower 9/1/81 p. 23 par. 9 Repentance Leading Back to God
- "Imitate Jehovah—Exercise Justice and Righteousness", The Watchtower, August 1, 1998, page 17
- The Watchtower 9/15/87 p. 13 par. 13
- The Watchtower 9/1/81 p. 26 par. 23 Repentance Leading Back to God
- The Watchtower 12/1/76 p. 733 par. 14 Giving Reproof "Before All Onlookers"
- Organized to Do Jehovah's Will. Watch Tower Society. 2015. p. 135.
Elders will use discernment in determining whether a particular situation is sufficiently serious and disturbing to others to warrant a warning talk. The speaker will provide appropriate counsel concerning disorderly conduct, but he will not name the disorderly one. Consequently, those who are aware of the situation described in the talk will take care to avoid socializing with such an individual, although they will continue spiritual association.
- Our Kingdom Ministry March 1983, p. 3.
- "Always Accept Jehovah's Discipline". The Watchtower: 30. November 15, 2006.
During the time that an individual who has been judicially reproved is healing spiritually... it would be beneficial for the repentant one to listen rather than comment at meetings.
- "How Baptism Can Save Us". The Watchtower. Jan 15, 1989. p. 17.
- "Disfellowshiping—How to View It". The Watchtower. September 15, 1981. pp. 22–23.
- "Do Jehovah's Witnesses Shun Former Members of Their Religion?". JW.ORG. Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania. Retrieved 29 January 2017.
A baptized Witness makes a practice of breaking the Bible’s moral code and does not repent, he or she will be shunned or disfellowshipped... The marriage relationship and normal family affections and dealings continue. Disfellowshipped individuals may attend our religious services. If they wish, they may also receive spiritual counsel from congregation elders. The goal is to help each individual once more to qualify to be one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Disfellowshipped people who reject improper conduct and demonstrate a sincere desire to live by the Bible’s standards are always welcome to become members of the congregation again.
- Keep Yourselves in God's Love. p. 35.
- "You May Gain Your Brother". The Watchtower. October 15, 1999. p. 22.
- "Always Accept Jehovah's Discipline". The Watchtower. November 15, 2006. p. 27.
- "Jealous for the Pure Worship of Jehovah". The Watchtower. September 15, 1995. p. 11.
- "The Bible's Viewpoint—Why Disfellowshipping Is a Loving Arrangement". Awake!. September 8, 1996. pp. 26–27.
- "Jehovah's Witnesses drop transfusion ban".
transfusions have been relegated to 'non-disfellowshipping events' ... If a member has a transfusion, they will, by their actions disassociate themselves from the religion.
- "Questions From Readers". The Watchtower. October 15, 1986. p. 32.
- "Questions From Readers". The Watchtower. January 15, 1982. p. 31.
The second situation involves a person who renounces his standing in the congregation by joining a secular organization whose purpose is contrary to counsel such as that found at Isaiah 2:4, ... neither will they learn war anymore."
- "Do You Hate Lawlessness?". The Watchtower. February 15, 2011. p. 31.
Do we share Jesus' view of those who have become set in their lawless course? We need to give thought to these questions: 'Would I choose to associate regularly with someone who has been disfellowshipped or who has disassociated himself from the Christian congregation? What if that one is a close relative who no longer lives at home?' Such a situation can be a real test of our loyalty to God.
- Pay Attention to Yourselves and to All the Flock. 1991. pp. 121–122.
- Shepherd the Flock of God. Watch Tower Society. p. 104.
- "Re: Correspondence from branch office and congregation file". Letter to All bodies of elders. Christian Congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses. December 6, 2010.CS1 maint: others (link)
- Branch Organization Manual. Watch Tower Society. 2015. p. 98.
- Pay Attention to Yourselves and all the Flock. p. 103.
2 John 11 ("For he that says a greeting to him is a sharer in his wicked works.")
- Botting, Heather; Gary Botting (1984), The Orwellian World of Jehovah's Witnesses, University of Toronto Press, p. 91, ISBN 0-8020-6545-7
- "Keep Yourselves in God's Love". Watch Tower Society. 2008. pp. 207–208.
We do not have spiritual or social fellowship with disfellowshipped ones. ... In some instances, the disfellowshipped family member may still be living in the same home as part of the immediate household. Since his being disfellowshipped does not sever the family ties, normal day-to-day family activities and dealings may continue. Yet, by his course, the individual has chosen to break the spiritual bond between him and his believing family. So loyal family members can no longer have spiritual fellowship with him.
- "How Can You Help a 'Prodigal' Child?". Watchtower: 16–17. October 1, 2001.
- "Safeguard Your Heart". Awake!: 28. 8 July 1970.
And if he seeks reinstatement, he must show his sincerity by attending congregation meetings with no one speaking to him, all the while giving evidence of repentance.
- ""An Overseer Must Be ... Self-Controlled"". The Watchtower. April 15, 1991. p. 21.
- "Imitate Jehovah—Exercise Justice and Righteousness". The Watchtower. August 1, 1998. p. 16.
- "The Challenge of Following in His Footsteps". The Watchtower. May 1, 1998. p. 15.
- "A Step on the Way Back". The Watchtower. August 15, 1992. p. 31.
- Organised to Do Jehovah's Will. Watch Tower Society. 2016. p. 144.
- Shepherd the Flock of God. Watch Tower Society. p. 119.
- Correspondence Guidelines. Watch Tower Society. pp. 109–110.
The elders are careful to allow sufficient time, perhaps a year or even longer, for the disfellowshipped person to demonstrate that his profession of repentance is genuine.
- "Imitate Jehovah's Mercy". The Watchtower. October 1, 1998. p. 18.
Although it seems that the wrongdoer in Corinth was reinstated within a relatively short period of time, this is not to be used as a standard for all disfellowshippings.
- "Divine Mercy Points the Way Back for Erring Ones". The Watchtower. August 1, 1974. p. 466.
- Shepherd the Flock of God. Watch Tower Society. p. 121.
- Circuit Overseer Guidelines. Watch Tower Society. pp. 72–73.
depending on the gravity of the wrongdoing, this might take five, ten, or more years. In cases of great scandal, a brother might not live the reproach down sufficiently in his lifetime so as to qualify as an elder or a ministerial servant. A brother who enters into an adulterous marriage would not qualify to serve as an elder or a ministerial servant at least until the death or remarriage of his former mate, if ever. Neither would he qualify to serve as an auxiliary or regular pioneer or be assigned to help with the literature, accounts, magazines, attendants, or similar assignments.
- Paul v. Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York Inc, 819 F.2d 875 (9th Cir. 1987).
- "Discipline That Can Yield Peaceable Fruit". The Watchtower. April 15, 1988. pp. 26–30.
- "Religion: The Right To Shun". Time. June 29, 1987.
The Constitution's guarantee of "free exercise," said the appeals panel, applies even to unpopular groups and practices
- Ptasiewicz, Seth (1988). "The Ninth Circuit's Eleventh Commandment to Religious Groups: Thou Shalt Not Be Liable for Thine Intentional Intangible Torts: Paul v. Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc., 819 F.2d 875 (9th Cir. 1987)". Washington University Law Quarterly. 66 (4): 807–818.
- "Highwood Congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses (Judicial Committee) v. Wall". Supreme Court of Canada. 2018.
- The Watchtower 11/15/88 p. 18 par. 14 Helping Others to Worship God
- The Watchtower 11/15/88 p. 19 par. 17 Helping Others to Worship God
- The Watchtower 11/15/88 p. 19 par. 19 Helping Others to Worship God
- Jehovah’s Witnesses – Proclaimers of God’s Kingdom chap. 15 p. 232 "Development of the Organization Structure"
- Raymond Franz, In Search Of Christian Freedom, pp.374–390. Franz claims the Watch Tower organization ignores the "clear principle of openness in the conduct of judicial proceedings" and cites the Watch Tower Society publication, Insight on the Scriptures, Vol 1, p. 518, which states that "publicity that would be afforded any trial at the gate would tend to influence the judges toward care and justice in the trial proceedings and in their decisions".
- Franz, Raymond. Crisis of Conscience. 4th ed. Atlanta: Commentary Press, 2004. pp. 341-2. ISBN 0-914675-24-9.