Graeme Hammond writes:
In his 2002 book that examined the behaviour and practices of Jehovah’s Witnesses, English sociologist Andrew Holden devoted an entire chapter to the trauma and friction experienced by those who choose to leave the Jehovah’s Witness religion. “Those who do eventually break free,” he concluded, “are seldom allowed a dignified exit.”
He noted: “As far as the Governing Body is concerned, there is no difference between those who leave the Watch Tower community voluntarily and those who are disfellowshipped.”
Though the Watch Tower Society denies it, those who who choose to depart are shunned by family and friends. This, as Holden says, can create enormous problems given that JWs are urged to limit their contact with the outside world for fear of “spiritual contamination”.
There are three exit doors for Jehovah’s Witnesses:
- Disfellowshipping as a result of a judicial committee, a shocking kangaroo court process that results in organised shunning, with even verbal greetings prohibited;
- Disassociation, a voluntary but formal cutting of ties with the congregation and religion, which attracts the same response from the congregation; and
- “Fading”, in which JWs gradually reduce their contact with the congregation before ceasing attendance entirely, hoping their absence won’t be missed.
Those who do “fade” however, not only often find that they are shunned by former friends anyway, but that their new life of independence — which may include celebrating Christmas, attending a different church, engaging in premarital sex or criticising their former religion — can result in being summoned to a judicial committee with the likely result of being disfellowshipped. Jehovah’s Witnesses regard baptism as a lifelong commitment to the church, and therefore lifelong subjection to the authority of elders.
Non-believers (those who have never joined the Jehovah’s Witnesses) are not formally shunned; they are simply avoided as “bad association”.