The Shunned Speak Out
To outsiders, the words Jehovah’s Witnesses may only call to mind an unexpected knock on the door, but their shunning practice, called disfellowshipping, devastates hundreds of former members and their families every year.
Jehovah’s Witnesses who commit "a serious sin" without expressing sufficient repentance are disfellowshipped by a judiciary committee, according to an article published in the Watchtower magazine, archived on the organization website. Serious sins include watching pornography, engaging in premarital sex and marital infidelity, but there is no exhaustive list. According to former members, judiciary meetings are long processes, where elders ask details about indiscretions, sometimes sexual in nature, and use nebulous guidelines to determine punishment. Officials at the Jehovah’s Witness headquarters referred to their website for questions on disfellowshipping.
On December 5, 2017, the Watchtower sign perched in view of the Brooklyn Bridge transformed to neon against the night sky one last time. The next day, the sign was removed after more than 40 years on the city’s skyline. Donald Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner’s development company bought the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ headquarters with the iconic Watchtower sign for $340 million the previous year and the Witnesses began moving their headquarters to Warwick, New York. The organization sold another property for $18 million, and a third one for $87.5 million. Though the organization has paid millions in settlements to sexual abuse victims and has profited from the sale of its Brooklyn real estate, it encourages modest livelihoods for members. Nearly half of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the United States live on less than $30,000 a year. Only nine percent have an undergraduate degree, the lowest percentage among similar religious groups.
The "Shunned Speak Out" is a living collection of the stories of former Jehovah’s Witnesses affected by shunning. The emotional fallout of leaving the organization has left them in the uncomfortable space between grieving a lost identity and joyfully discovering a new one. Like so many victims of systemic trauma, they have chosen difficult paths -- treacherous, winding, and unpredictable -- to recovery. Here are some of their stories in their own words, accompanied by audio clips of their accounts.