40,000 to 50,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses are “disfellowshipped” annually, but half that number “repent” each year and return to the organization, reports Oregon’s Register-Guard.

The national spokesman for the Watchtower Society, the umbrella organization that dictates Witness policies, describes the purpose of the practice as “a discipline…to correct what is wrong…All spiritual relations and all social relationships are severed, and, by extension, business relationships.”

That is, an effective end of any meaningful communication and relations between practicing Witnesses and someone so disfellowshipped.

This can be a deeply painful experience for the person disfellowshipped, which can easily lead to isolation, estrangement from family members and depression.

It appears that this Witness practice may be cited in part as a defense, to explain why one man murdered his family in Oregon. It appears to have driven others to suicide.

A longtime apologist for cults and controversial religious groups Rodney Stark said, “It seems far more likely that, rather than disfellowshipping being a cause, it was just one more symptom of someone with serious problems.”

That may be so, but despite that apology disfellowshipping is also often a way Witnesses silence critics and suppress dissent, within the tightly controlled organization.

The discipline of disfellowshipping seems to be a tool employed by the Witness hierarchy to excise its troublesome members who raise critical questions about its doctrines and practices.

Witnesses have been disfellowshipped for questioning and/or somehow opposing the organization’s admonishment not to accept blood transfusions. And recently it appears to have been used to silence questions about the handling of sexual abuse complaints within congregations.

Obviously by cutting off and isolating critical members, the leaders of Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t have to deal with dissent and don’t need to worry about the subsequent effect it may have regarding other members.

This makes damage control within the organization comparatively easy.

Disfellowshipping essentially often replaces the need for leaders to have any meaningful dialog with members that don’t agree with them.


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